The Recovery of Australian International Education: A Billion Dollar Opportunity

In 2019, the Chinese international student market contributed an estimated $12.1 million dollars to the Australian economy[1], and made up 37.3% of all international students in the country[2]. When the pandemic swept across the globe in 2020, many students returned to their home countries and no longer enrolled in overseas universities. However, with recent restrictions easing in China and education institutions returning to normal teaching, Chinese students have begun returning to Australia and enrolling as international students once again.

In 2023, Australia saw a return of international students to the country, however, the return to pre-pandemic levels will take significant time and effort from the Australian government and education institutions, especially when countries like the UK and Canada have had a head start. The importance of international students in Australia cannot be understated, as they benefit not only the economy but the nation’s culture and development for years to come.

Find out more insights in our UMS Whitepaper: Reconnecting with Prospective Students in China here:

On 24-25 July, the Professionals In Education group will be visiting Australia to host the PIE LIVE Conference, bringing together leaders and aspiring leaders working in international education.

UMS Founder, Jessica Miao, will be speaking at this event to provide her unique perspective on the Australian education market and what UMS has observed through working with Australian education brands. To find out more and purchase tickets, visit the main site here.


Chinese Student Enrolment with Australian Providers

As a result of COVID-19 and budgeting pressures on education institutions, Chinese student enrolment in recent years has significantly decreased in Australian school systems. As of March 2023, there was an estimated 125,762 Chinese international students enrolled in Australian education providers[3]. As seen below, higher education consistently remains the most significant sector of enrolment but has decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Number of Chinese student enrolments in Australia from 2012-2022 by Education Sector.

Source: Statista, August 2022.


Although this highlights the decrease over recent years, it also showcases the potential that Australia has to offer Chinese students. A recent survey highlights that 70% of Chinese parents and 80% of Chinese students are interested in overseas study[4]. Regaining these numbers will take time, but with correct marketing and engagement we will see an increase in students returning over the coming years.

Michael Wesley, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Melbourne, recently highlighted how important Chinese and Australian education is for both parties;

“Two-way academic exchanges and collaborations are the best way for our society to keep abreast of a rapidly changing society and it’s evolving government imperatives.”[5]. Wesley recognises the importance of rebuilding a connection with China and engaging in academic exchanges to not only benefit students and education but to provide flow-on effects of this into other sectors of the Australia-China relationship.


Student Visa Levels


Source : Australian Department of Home Affairs, December 2022.


The graph above highlights the increase in student visas that were granted to international students into Australia between 2021-2023. The number of visas issued to key markets including India, China and Nepal showed a significant recovery in the last year, which will help build momentum for future student applications.


Student Visas granted in the main English education markets, 2019-2022


Source: Education New Zealand, The Insight Story, May 2023


Comparing this to the last four years in the graph above, which tracks the growth in international visa issuance from 2019 to 2022, we can see that Australia and New Zealand still have a significant way to go to catch up to peer markets. The United Kingdom, Canada and the United States have all issued significantly more student visas (to all nations) in 2022 than they did in 2019.

Distributing students across suitable universities, polytechnic and private training courses will be vital to ensure that potential students that hold a visa in China, are able to secure a place to study overseas. With the drop in international students during the pandemic, many study institutions do not yet have their staffing capacity back to 2019 levels. Increasing awareness of the variety of campus locations and range of courses to potential students, their parents, and education agents in China will be important to ensure the current available capacity is unitised fully.

Image: University of New South Wales Quadrangle Building, WikiMediaCommons.


Long term economic benefits 

The economic benefits of increasing international student numbers greatly improves the economy, but also the culture and future of Australia. Australian Labour Senator Deborah O’Neill recently commented on the importance of international students and tourism, stating “international education actually generates 69 per cent of international tourism spend in Australia.”[6].

Before COVID-19, international students contributed over $40 billion dollars to the Australian economy. In comparison, the Australian Bureau of Statistics recently highlighted that international students in Australia contributed $25.5 billion to the economy in 2022[7]. This drop represents that even through effects of COVID-19, the sector is important to overall economy.

International students often take time to explore Australia during their time studying abroad. Family and friends commonly come to visit and explore the regions around the main cities, and will sometimes adventure further to discover what Australia has to offer.


Regional Economic Benefits of International Students in Australia

Source: Regional Economic Benefits of International Students in Australia. Education Australia.


Engagement Strategy

Creating an online presence and connecting with prospective students in China is imperative for Australian education providers to restore international student interest back to pre-COVID levels. Utilising social media platforms such as WeChat, Little Red Book, and Douyin (China’s TikTok) allows education institutions to reach a large consumer base through promoting their campus, culture, and support systems.

Tourism Australia has just launched its “Come Say G’Day” Campaign in China this month, encouraging Chinese visitors to travel to Australia[8]. They are partnering with various Chinese travel agents and airlines, as well as launching Douyin and WeChat campaigns with their mascot Ruby showing the sights Australia has to offer. Education institutions in Australia should be aligning themselves within this marketing strategy, and use social media to connect with prospective students.

Using social media to engage consumers and share other Chinese student success stories and providing more visual information about what the education provider can offer is essential to attracting more Chinese students. Increasing content for prospective Chinese students through key opinion leaders or trusted alumni from an institution will attract a wider range of students.


Leveraging Agent Networks

Using an agent in China is very popular for international students to facilitate the process of moving overseas. From the decision-making process to visa handling, agents are commonly used to ensure the process of becoming an international student flows smoothly.

Australian education institutions need to be engaging with these agents and create long-lasting relationships to increase reputation and exposure to Chinese students. This is significant for more recently established institutions such as polytechnics, or places that are trying to introduce international exchanges in their area, where pairing agent relationships and social media is crucial to entering the international student market.

Image: University of Sydney Campus, WikiMediaCommons.


Highly valued skills

In China, practical skills and vocational training have increasingly received support from the government and are becoming more recognised as an important career path for young people[9]. As China continues to develop as a country and advances its technology significantly, the government is progressively supporting the development of engineering and technical skills to enhance these developments.

The vocational training institutions in Australia is of high interest to China, where regarded organisations such as Technical and Further Education (TAFE) and Registered Training Organisations (RTO’s) have an opportunity to increase the number of international student enrolments. This not only benefits China but benefits the Australian economy as many students may choose to remain in-country to gain more work experience before returning home. This sector also targets a younger age group of Chinese students, where it is not only undergraduate or graduate study, but study for younger students that have completed intermediate-level schooling.



Australia’s international student market presents a huge opportunity for education providers that operate in all sectors and regions of the country. Chinese students are returning to international studies and are wanting to experience a new culture while completing higher education.

However, attaining enrolment levels to match pre-pandemic numbers means that government agencies and educational institutes alike have to be targeting the Chinese international student market in new and engaging ways. By engaging online through social media and sharing parts of the student life not seen elsewhere, students can feel more engaged. As Australia rebuilds its relationship with China and invites students back to its educational institutes, both countries will see positive outcomes.

[1]  Statista, Education export income from Chinese students in Australia from financial years 2014 to 2019. December 2019,dollars%20in%20financial%20year%202019.
[2] Parliament of Australia, Overseas Students in Australian higher education: a quick guide. April 2021.,%2437.6%20billion%20in%202018%E2%80%9319.
[3] Australian Trade and Investment Commission, YTD March 2023 international student data available, June 2023
[4]  United Media Solution Whitepaper: Reconnecting with Prospective Students in China, March 2023
[5] Australian Financial Review, “Australia must engage with China, our future depends on it” July 2023
[6]Australian Financial Review, “Tourism would barely survive without overseas students, inquiry hears” June 2023
[7] Universities Australia, International Education adds $29 Billion to the Economy, February 2023
[8] Tourism Australia, Come and Say G’Day Launches in China, July 2023
[9] China Briefing, “Vocational Education in China: New Law Promotes Sector’s Growth”. May 2022.