Report examines impact of COVID-19 on international student numbers

There will be 300,000 fewer international students — half the pre-coronavirus numbers — in Australia by July 2021 if current travel restrictions remain in place, a new report from the Mitchell Institute projects.

The research uses geographic data mapping to examine the dire impact of COVID-19 travel restrictions on international student numbers in Australia, and the longer-term policy implications for the education sector and Australian cities more broadly.

The report predicts that losses to the economy related to international students will continue to grow, stating that the problem is bigger than just the education sector and that current policy responses may be having only limited impact.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Applications for international student visas have collapsed. Applications for student visas for individuals who are outside Australia are approximately 80–90% below what they were at the same time in 2019.
  • There are approximately 210,000 fewer international students in Australia than would otherwise be expected. From the 29th of March to October 25th 2020, there was a reduction of around 75,000 currently enrolled international students. As of October 25th 2020, there were approximately 135,000 international students outside Australia and 400,000 in Australia.
  • The longer the travel restrictions remain in place, the greater the losses associated with the international education sector. Modelling based on the rate of decline experienced in the first six months of the pandemic suggests that, compared to October 2019, there will be an approximate 50% reduction in international students inside Australia by July 2021. If the travel restrictions remain in place until July 2022, the modelling suggests about 165,000 international students will remain inside Australia, a reduction of over 410,000 compared to October 2019.
  • The current international education crisis is not just a university problem. Approximately 57%, or $21.4 billion, of the $37.5 billion in annual revenue associated with international education comes in the form of goods and services spent in the wider economy. The reduction in international students living in Australia will affect the many Australian jobs and businesses that rely on international education.
  • The impact of fewer international students will vary by city. For instance, Sydney and Melbourne have likely experienced a substantial reduction in international students. However, the loss is more concentrated in Melbourne's CBD area whereas in Sydney the reduction is more evenly spread throughout the city.
  • It is unclear whether programs that enable currently enrolled international students outside Australia to return will have a substantial impact. This is because many international students inside Australia are choosing to leave the country.
  • There is a strong association between migration policy and the international education sector. This current crisis may be an opportunity to implement policy reform that builds a more sustainable international education sector.

Download report: Coronavirus and international students