Growing number of WA students flow from unlikely country

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
The numbers of international students from Bhutan has risen across universities in Western Australia
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Enrolments of international students have bounced back in universities across Western Australia – but an unexpected country has taken first place.

Students from Bhutan – a national on the edge of the Himalayas, with a population of less than one million – is overtaking China and India as countries with the biggest number of enrolled uni students in Australia’s largest state.

Ten years ago, Bhutan did not make the top 20 countries of where international students studying in WA originated. That number has been rising steadily since 2015, with 7238 students currently enrolled across the state on student visa in 2024.

The trend places WA as the only Australian destination attracting such a large portion of international students from Bhutan.

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The Bhutan population is also one of the fastest growing in the state overall, with barely 30 Bhutanese people calling Perth home two decades ago.

Data from the 2021 Census shows almost 5000 people from the South Asian country lived in Perth.

Students from Pakistan and Nepal are also increasing across WA

A Curtin University spokeswoman confirms the shift in student demographics and says they have seen an increase in students from Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan.

“While our traditional international student base has remained relatively stable, especially from China, India and Malaysia, in recent years, Curtin has seen a significant shift in demographics,” she says.

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“This trend is largely due the economic development in these regions, leading to a growing middle class with the financial means to pursue higher education abroad.”

At WA’s Murdoch University, International Pro Vice Chancellor Kelly Smith also reports an increase in students coming from South Asia in general.

“Whilst China remains the largest source country nationally, India has been growing quickly and is the largest source for WA,” he says.

“Murdoch has had a very long-term engagement with Bhutan stretching back to the mid-2000s. This engagement has been led by our strength in sustainable and community development.

“As the numbers of Bhutanese studying in Australia has grown, so to have the numbers choosing Murdoch.”

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At the University of Western Australia (UWA), a spokeswoman says its growth was still being mainly driven by China, alongside India and a range of other South Asian and South East Asian countries, while Edith Cowan University would only confirm it has a “healthy diversity” of international students.

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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