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3416.0 - Perspectives on Migrants, 2007  
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OVERSEAS STUDENTS

On this page:
INTRODUCTION
SOURCES OF DATA ON OVERSEAS STUDENTS
HOW MANY PERSONS FROM OVERSEAS COME TO AUSTRALIA FOR STUDY?
FROM WHICH COUNTRIES DO OVERSEAS STUDENTS COME?
ARE OVERSEAS STUDENTS MORE LIKELY TO BE MALE OR FEMALE?
HOW OLD ARE OVERSEAS STUDENTS?
WHAT ARE PEOPLE FROM OVERSEAS STUDYING?
WHICH UNIVERSITIES DO OVERSEAS STUDENTS ATTEND?
IN WHAT TYPES OF JOBS ARE OVERSEAS STUDENTS EMPLOYED?
SUMMARY
LIST OF REFERENCES


INTRODUCTION

A growing number of overseas students are studying in Australia. Australian Education International (AEI) data show that in the year to October 2007, enrolments of full-fee paying overseas students in Australia increased by 19% to 437,065. The largest proportion (40%) of enrolments were in the higher education sector, followed by vocational education (27%), English language intensive courses for overseas students, or ELICOS, (21%) and schools (6%).

Enrolments by overseas students are classified as either onshore or offshore enrolments. Onshore refers to an enrolment by a student who is studying within Australia, whereas offshore refers to an enrolment by a student who is studying at an Australian institution but residing outside of Australia. Some of these offshore students undertake the preliminary years of their course in their own countries before completing it in Australia, while others undertake the entire course offshore (Dobson, 1998).

From the early 1950s to the mid-1980s, most overseas students arrived in Australia under the Colombo Plan, a foreign aid scheme to assist developing countries. However, since 1990, the majority have been full-fee paying students (Dobson 1998). Today the education industry generates substantial income for the Australian economy. ABS data show that in 2006-07 education-related spending by overseas students - covering all expenditure including tuition fees and living expenses - was valued at more than $11 billion in export earnings.

This article highlights different sources of data on overseas students. It examines:

  • the number of overseas students in Australia and the countries from which they have come
  • the age and sex of overseas students
  • sectors in which these students are studying
  • universities with large proportions of overseas students, and
  • the types of jobs in which these students are employed.


SOURCES OF DATA ON OVERSEAS STUDENTS

The table below lists the data sources used in this article. Further information on these, and other sources, is available in the Guide to Migrant Statistical Sources (ABS cat. no. 3414.0).

SOURCES OF DATA ON OVERSEAS STUDENTS

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)
Census of Population and HousingIncludes people born overseas who complete a census form and indicate they are attending an educational institution.
Overseas Arrivals and Departures CollectionData on people who arrive from overseas and nominate education as the main purpose of their journey, including those with and without student visas. Country of origin based on residence.
Australian Education International (AEI), Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR)
Provider Registration and International Student Management SystemEnrolment data for all education sectors. Covers onshore international students on student visas who have received a 'confirmation of enrolment' from government and non-government registered providers. Country of origin based on citizenship.
International student numbersAEI derive student numbers by matching a number of different variables such as date of birth, name and gender.
Higher Education Statistics CollectionOnshore and offshore enrolment data for the higher education sector. Covers courses with Commonwealth-funded Australian providers. Country of origin based on permanent home residence.
Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC)
Student visa grantsStudent visas granted in Australia (onshore) and overseas (offshore) to people who are not Australian or New Zealand citizens or permanent residents. Granted for full-time study in registered courses.



It is important to note that data collected from the sources cited in this table may not be directly comparable because the data collections cover different groups of students. For example, the Provider Registration and International Student Management System provides data on students who have acquired a student visa for temporary entry to Australia while the Census also includes data on people who have entered the country permanently, as part of Australia's general migration programme, and later enrolled to study here. The data collections also differ in terms of how they record country of origin - either citizenship or permanent home residence are used.

HOW MANY PERSONS FROM OVERSEAS COME TO AUSTRALIA FOR STUDY?

In order to study in Australia for more than three months, people who are not Australian or New Zealand citizens must obtain a student visa. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) grants student visas for study in full-time accredited and registered courses. There are seven visa sub-classes:
  • independent English language intensive courses for overseas students
  • schools
  • vocational education and training
  • higher education
  • postgraduate research
  • non-award
  • AusAID or Defence.

DIAC data show that a total of 228,592 visas were granted in 2006-07, an increase of 20% compared to 2005-06. This number comprised 167,129 offshore visas (i.e. visas to study in Australia that are granted overseas) and 61,463 onshore visas (i.e. student visas granted in Australia).

The following table illustrates that although different sources do not produce directly comparable data on overseas students, each collection points to a rise in the number of overseas students between 2002 and 2006. (Data from 2002 were used because there was a break in the AEI International Student data series between 2001 and 2002.)

CHANGES IN THE QUANTITY OF OVERSEAS STUDENTS

Data source
2002
2006
% change
'000
'000

Overseas arrivals for education(a)
308
397
29
Student enrolments(b)
275
384
40
Student numbers(c)
228
318
39

(a) Source: ABS Overseas Arrivals and Departures Collection
(b) Source: AEI Collections
(c) Source: AEI Collections


ABS Overseas Arrivals and Departures data indicate that visitors to Australia who nominated education as the main purpose of their journey increased from 308,340 in 2002 to 396,628 in 2006. Since 1996 the number of people arriving for study has grown by 123%. These figures include people who do not require a visa to study in Australia such as New Zealand students.

AEI data show that the number of overseas students studying in all sectors in Australia increased by 40% from 227,874 in 2002 to 317,909 in 2006. AEI data also indicate that overseas student enrolments in Australia have grown. This data source refers to the number of course enrolments at Australian institutions by people from overseas on student visas. Between 2002 and 2006, overseas student enrolments increased by 40% to 383,818. Year-to-date figures for October 2007 suggest growth in enrolments has continued, reaching 437,065 enrolments. Individuals can be enrolled in more than one sector at the same time, meaning that the same student can be counted several times in enrolment totals. For example, a student may be enrolled in a higher education course and an independent English language intensive course simultaneously.

Birrell (2006) notes that many overseas students are interested in obtaining permanent residence after graduation, and that this motivation appears to have driven growth in overseas student enrolments in higher education. Birrell's assertion is based on evidence that most enrolment growth has occurred both in courses potentially leading to a permanent residence outcome within two years, and among students from countries more likely to seek a permanent residency visa. The countries of citizenship of students with the highest propensity to obtain permanent residence in Australia for courses completed in 2003 were Nepal (77%), India (73%), Bangladesh (71%) and Pakistan (67%) (Birrell 2005).


FROM WHICH COUNTRIES DO OVERSEAS STUDENTS COME?

According to ABS arrivals data, overseas visitors arriving in Australia for education came from 187 different countries in 2006, compared to 156 countries in 1996. Almost two-thirds (62%) of the 2006 arrivals were from South East Asian or North East Asian countries. The country of residence for the greatest proportion of arrivals was China (17%), increasing from 2% of all education arrivals in 1996. Other major countries of residence for people arriving for study in 2006 were the Republic of Korea (9% of visitor arrivals), the US and Japan (both 7%).

AEI data on the countries of origin of overseas students were slightly different to that of overseas arrivals data. While students from China made up the largest proportion of overseas students in 2006, accounting for 22% (69,848), the second largest proportion was from India (11%). Students from the Republic of Korea (8%) were the third largest group. Recent analysis of ABS data shows that China and India provided the largest net migration gains for Australia for the 2006 calendar year (Salt 2008).

OVERSEAS STUDENTS IN ALL SECTORS IN 2006(a), by major source countries

Source country
No.
'000
%

China
69.8
22.0
India
34.2
10.8
Republic of Korea
25.0
7.9
Malaysia
17.9
5.6
Hong Kong
16.7
5.3
Japan
14.6
4.6
Thailand
13.3
4.2
Indonesia
12.6
4.0
United States of America
11.8
3.7
Singapore
8.8
2.8
Other nationalities
93.3
29.3
Total
317.9
100

(a) Calendar year data
Source: AEI international student numbers


AEI enrolments data show that the proportion of overseas enrolments from China increased from 17% in 2002 to 24% in 2006, and the proportion from India grew from 4% to 10% in the same period. The number of enrolments of students from India more than tripled from 11,370 in 2002 to 39,166 in 2006, and has continued to grow in 2007.

In contrast, enrolments by students from Indonesia declined from 21,048 in 2002 to 15,038 in 2006, those from Hong Kong fell from 22,148 to 20,523, and those from Singapore decreased from 12,077 to 9,242. Enrolments from Hong Kong and Singapore have continued to decrease in 2007.

Considering DIAC data on student visas, the greatest number (38,466) of student visas for 2006-07 were granted to students from China. A further 34,146 visas were granted to students from India, 18,557 visas to students from Republic of Korea, and 9,973 visas to students from the United States. The graph below illustrates that total visas for students from India increased more than fourfold between 2002-03 and 2006-07. Over the same period, visas for students from China increased by 70% but visas for students from the United States declined by 13%.

STUDENT VISAS GRANTED, by top five countries
Graph: Student Visas Granted, by top five countries



ARE OVERSEAS STUDENTS MORE LIKELY TO BE MALE OR FEMALE?

ABS overseas arrivals data show that the proportion of females arriving in Australia to study has grown from 42% of education arrivals in 1986 to 50% in 2006. However, the proportion of females and males arriving to study varied between countries of origin. For example, 20% of students arriving from India in 2006 were female, compared to 64% of students arriving from Japan. Over time, the proportion of female students arriving from China grew from 28% in 1986 to 53% in 2006, and the proportion from the Republic of Korea increased from 32% to 52% over the same period.

As the graph below illustrates, analysis of AEI data on student numbers produced similar findings. Overall, there were more male (54%) than female (46%) students from overseas studying in Australia in 2006. Consistent with ABS arrivals data, the sex of students varied according to the country from which they originated. For example, most students (83%) from India were male, whereas 52% of students from China were female.

PERCENTAGE OF OVERSEAS STUDENTS IN 2006, by nationality and sex
Graph: Percentage of Overseas Students in 2006, by nationality and sex


HOW OLD ARE OVERSEAS STUDENTS?

According to ABS overseas arrivals data, the largest proportion of people arriving in Australia to study in 2006 was aged 20-24 years (42%). A further 28% of people arriving in Australia to study were aged 25 years or over, 23% were aged 15-19 years, and the remainder (6%) were aged less than 15 years. The group of arrivals aged 15-19 years appeared likely to have comprised a combination of senior school and post-school students, whereas those aged less than 15 years were school students.

Similarly, AEI data show that the largest proportion (50%) of people on a student visa studying in Australia were aged 20-24 years. A further 35% of people on a student visa were aged 25 years or over, 14% were aged 15-19 years, and 1% were aged less than 15 years. About one third of students from India were in the 25-29 year age group (25-29 years) in 2006. In contrast, about 20% of Chinese students were in the same age group, while 57% were aged 20-24 years. The Republic of Korea had the highest proportion (10%) of students aged less than 15 years, but also had a large proportion (43%) of students aged 25 years or over.

PERCENTAGE OF OVERSEAS STUDENTS IN 2006, by nationality and age
Graph: Percentage of Overseas Students in 2006, by nationality and age
WHAT ARE PEOPLE FROM OVERSEAS STUDYING?

Most student visas are granted for study in the higher education sector. In 2006-07, 110,821 higher education visas were issued, 18% more than in the previous year (DIAC 2007). Another 43,404 visas were granted for the vocational education and training (VET) sector, 45% more than in the previous year, and 30,115 visas were issued in the independent English language intensive courses for overseas students (ELICOS) sector, 13% more than in 2005-06. Additionally, visas granted for the school sector increased by 37% to 14,237 in 2006-07, whereas visas for courses that do not lead to an award were relatively stable at 17,616.

According to AEI data on overseas student numbers, just over half (52%) of the 317,909 students on a student visa in 2006 studied in the higher education sector, 23% in the VET sector, 22% in the ELICOS sector, and 8% in the schools sector. As the graph below illustrates, the number of students in the higher education sector increased by 49% between 2002 and 2006, those in the VET sector grew by 53%, students in the ELICOS sector increased by 34% and those in the schools sector rose by 6%.

OVERSEAS STUDENTS, by education sector
Graph: Overseas Students, by education sector


In terms of enrolments, growth (26%) in the vocational education sector in 2006, compared to the previous year, was mostly due to large increases in enrolments from India (166%), Brazil (51%), the Republic of Korea (34%) and China (14%), according to AEI data. The ELICOS sector also experienced substantial growth (19%) in 2006 partly as a result of increases in enrolments from India (133%), Brazil (47%) and the Republic of Korea (23%). A 5% increase in enrolments in the higher education sector in the same period was driven mainly by growth from China and India. As to other types of education, schools were the only sector to record a decline (2%) in enrolments in 2006 compared to the previous year.

Year-to-date AEI data for October 2007 revealed continued expansion in enrolments of overseas students in all sectors: vocational education enrolments grew by 45%, ELICOS enrolments rose by 30%, school enrolments increased by 12% and enrolments in other courses grew by 5%.

AEI enrolments data also show that the broad field of Business Administration and Management had the greatest proportion (27%) of overseas student enrolments in 2006, increasing by 11% compared to 2005. This field of study includes courses in accounting, which satisfy the accounting accreditation requirements for immigration purposes (Birrell 2006). Substantial growth was also recorded in the following three fields: services, hospitality and transport (60%); nursing (35%); and health and community services (26%).

WHICH UNIVERSITIES DO OVERSEAS STUDENTS ATTEND?

Overseas students are not evenly distributed among Australian universities. Data from DEEWR show that the ten universities with the highest number of onshore overseas students in 2006 accounted for 51% of the total number of students. The three universities with the largest number of onshore enrolments in 2006 (Central Queensland University, and Monash University and The University of Melbourne, both in Victoria) made up 19% of total onshore overseas students in higher education. Enrolments at Central Queensland University increased by about 5,300 between 2002 and 2006, while enrolments at Monash University fell by about 1,400. The greatest proportion of enrolments in 2006 were in Victoria (28%), followed by New South Wales (27%). Most states and territories showed an increase in enrolments between 2002 and 2006, except for the Northern Territory where enrolments decreased from 277 to 244. The largest increases were a 93% increase to 10,656 enrolments in South Australia, and 91% growth to 2,339 in Tasmania, although both rose from small bases.

ONSHORE OVERSEAS STUDENT NUMBERS, by top 10 universities in 2006

University
No. overseas students(a)
'000
% change between 2002 & 2006

Central Queensland University
12.6
72.9
Monash University
11.1
-11.1
The University of Melbourne
10.3
30.9
Macquarie University
9.7
79.6
The University of Sydney
9.1
34.4
University of Southern Queensland
8.9
38.9
University of New South Wales
8.5
-12.5
Curtin University of Technology
8.0
37.9
Griffith University
7.9
55.9
RMIT University
7.5
4.8
Other universities
89.0
48.7
Total
182.6

(a) Onshore students
Source: DEEWR Higher Education Statistics Collection

Several universities also had a substantial number of overseas students enrolled offshore. An offshore enrolment is where the student is enrolled at an Australian university but resides outside of Australia. For example, in 2006 RMIT had 10,437 offshore overseas students, Curtin University of Technology had 8,496 and Monash University had 6,007.


IN WHAT TYPES OF JOBS ARE OVERSEAS STUDENTS EMPLOYED?

The method of entry of overseas students affects entitlements to work in Australia. For example, people who arrive in Australia on a temporary student visa, who are granted permission to work, are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week during the academic term and unlimited hours when their course is not in session.

The table below shows the top five industries in which students born overseas were employed in 2006. The data apply only to persons who arrived in Australia between 2002 and 2006 who indicated they were studying at the time the 2006 Census was conducted. It should be noted the data include persons who arrived in Australia on temporary student visas or permanent visas such as those related to family migration. However, the census does not collect data on the visa category of respondents and thus it is not possible to calculate the numbers of students on different visas.

TOP 5 EMPLOYING INDUSTRIES OF OVERSEAS-BORN STUDENTS

No. overseas-born students, arrived 2002-2006(a)
'000
% of total employed overseas students

Accommodation and food services
17.1
28.7
Retail trade
9.4
15.7
Health care and social assistance
5.7
9.6
Manufacturing
4.2
7.0
Administrative and support services
4.0
6.8
Other
19.2
32.2
Total employed
59.6
100
Total not employed
231.6
Total (all students)
291.2

(a) Data have been randomly adjusted
Source: 2006 Census


Similar levels of overseas-born students (20%) and Australian-born students (21%) indicated that they had a job. Of the employed students, the greatest proportion (29%) of students born overseas worked in accommodation and food services, compared to 16% of employed students born in Australia. A further 16% of employed students born overseas worked in the retail trade, compared to 24% of employed Australian-born students.


SUMMARY

Several data sources provide information on overseas-born people who are studying in Australia. Comparisons of data from different collections are complicated by the fact that a number of these sources collect information from different groups of students. However, available data provide insight to the demographic characteristics, fields of study and types of employment of overseas students.

Although the data presented in this article come from sources that are not directly comparable, the pattern of a general increase in the number of overseas students studying in Australia is evident in each data series. The largest number of students now come from China, India and the Republic of Korea, which has offset a decline in enrolments by people from countries that have traditionally been large sources of students such as Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong. Overall, the proportion of female overseas students was similar to the proportion of males, but this ratio varied according to the student's country of origin. For example, far more males than females came from India to study in Australia. The largest proportion of overseas students were aged 20-24 years. Most overseas students were enrolled in higher education, and a substantial share of these individuals were undertaking courses in business administration and management.

Almost one in five onshore overseas students in higher education attended one of three universities. However, students from overseas were also enrolled in schools, vocational education and training, English language intensive courses for overseas students and other sectors. Most overseas students appeared not to work whilst studying, but many of those with a job were employed in accommodation and food services.


LIST OF REFERENCES

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2007, 2006 Census of Population and Housing, ABS, Canberra.

ABS 2007, International Trade in Goods and Services Collection, Australia, August 2007, cat. no. 5368.0, ABS, Canberra.

Australian Education International, International Student Data, Research Snapshots, and Market Data Snapshots, viewed 4 February 2008, <http://aei.dest.gov.au/AEI/MIP/Statistics>.

Birrell, B 2005, Immigration Rules and the Overseas Student Market in Australia, Centre for Population and Urban Research, Monash University, Victoria.

Birrell, B 2006, 'Implications of low English standards among overseas students at Australian universities', People and Place, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 53-64.

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Publications - Higher Education Statistics Collections, viewed 4 February 2008,
<http://www.dest.gov.au/sectors/higher_education/publications_resources/statistics>.

Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Student Visa Statistics, viewed 4 February 2008,
<http://www.diac.gov.au/media/statistics/study/index.htm>.

Dobson, IR 1998, 'Overseas students in Australian higher education: Trends to 1996', People and Place, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 24-29.

Salt, B, 'Asian migration will alter our cultural ties', The Australian, 31 January 2008, p. 26.



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