$2.47bn boom after numbers of international students bounce-back

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Following its COVID-related slump when border closures stopped international students from going to South Australia (SA), the state has announced a significant bounce-back in the sector.

New figures from StudyAdelaide reveal international education is SA’s third-largest export sector and is worth $2.47bn annually to the economy.

With more than 54,000 international student enrolments in SA, numbers are increasing -up from about 9000 from figures before the pandemic’s impact.

Higher education accounts for 50 per cent of the international student cohort, with 32 per cent studying a VET course. English language instruction makes up 11 per cent of the numbers, while around four per cent of international students are in SA high schools and three per cent are pursuing non-award pathways.

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Seeing international student numbers grow creates many benefits

StudyAdelaide chief executive Jane Johnston says SA’s “welcoming environment” sees the numbers of international students continuing to grow.

“International students often comment that that’s something that they love about South Australia,” Ms Johnston says.

Growth in the sector is partly attributed to word-of-mouth.

“The biggest promoter is the student, and they are also ambassadors back home,” Ms Johnston says.

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About 63 per cent of international students in the state have family and friends who have visited or intend to visit SA.

Each time an international flight arrives in Adelaide, StudyAdelaide figures show around 13 per cent of the passengers are students from abroad.

Ms Johnston says the key to further growth in the international education sector is to “promote the opportunities for international students while they are here”.

And with more than 50 per cent of international student expenditure in SA spent on living and recreational expenses,” Ms Johnston says the value is worth holding onto.

“It’s considering, as a South Australian, how international students can be welcomed into your community is one way that we can make sure South Australia remains on the map.”

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Diverse backgrounds and study ambitions

International students come to SA from more than 130 countries, with the top 10 countries of origin for students identified as India, China, Nepal, Vietnam, Colombia, Hong Kong, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Brazil and Pakistan.

Ms Johnston highlights the merger between the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia – as well as the establishment of a city campus at Flinders University – as potential drawcards for international students.

The location of the new campus – next to Adelaide Railway Station – offers easy public transport access for international students.

And having students from overseas benefits more than the economy, says Flinders University vice-president and pro vice-chancellor Sebastian Raneskold.

He says international students enrich “our social and cultural fabric” and unlock “future opportunities for our state on the international stage”.

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“It cannot be overstated just how important it is to make international students feel welcome and valued,” Mr Raneskold says.

Attracting students from different countries is important

But SA’s opposition education spokesman John Gardner warns the state must not become too reliant on the same origin countries providing a steady stream of international students, adding that “diversification is key to building a more resilient sector”.

“Having students come to South Australia from a wider range of different countries enhances the cultural benefits of the program, it builds a wider network of advocates and contacts for our state around the world,” says Mr Gardner.

“It also protects the long-term resilience of our international student sector from short term or isolated issues in any specific market. Going forward, it is important we keep that diversification strategy going.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live