India seems set to overtake China as Australia’s top education market in a change of guard with potentially major ramifications for university finances. Growth in the number of Indian students in Australia was five times as fast as expansion of Chinese student numbers in 2018, and Australia hosted just 5,000 more Chinese than Indian students by the year’s end — compared with a gap of over 20,000 in 2017, according to newly released data from Australia’s department of home affairs.
The trend is set to continue, with the department processing 12 percent more student visa applications from India than from China by the end of 2018 — a turnaround from the year before, when officials were dealing with 26 percent more Chinese applications. This pivot to India could hurt the university sector because Indians are about 50 percent more likely than their Chinese counterparts to pursue vocational studies. Some individual Australian universities that already enroll far more Indians than Chinese could benefit.
However, the prestigious research-intensive universities will be disadvantaged because they rely heavily on Chinese students. The University of Sydney and UNSW Sydney both sourced more than 26 percent of their revenue in 2018 from Chinese students’ fees. Melbourne, Monash, Queensland and the Australian National universities are also highly dependent on this income stream.
On June 15, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that UNSW has postponed a planned increase in foreign students’ English-language requirements after a fall in the number of first-year international students. UNSW’s vice chancellor, Ian Jacobs, says the report was based on an internal “review process” that did not constitute university policy, adding that fluctuations in international student numbers are “normal” but entry standards remain high.
International education expert Jonathan Chew says the universities most disadvantaged by such trends would be those that had made recent investments to attract more Chinese students, by appointing more staff in China and increasing commissions paid to agents. “It’s unfortunate timing that you’ve got institutions trying to turn on the tap just as these headwinds are starting to blow,” says Chew, a consultant at Nous Group.