Australia’s bogus “$35b” international student market

On Tuesday night, immigration minister, David Coleman, gave a speech to the Sydney Institute where he talked up the immense benefits arising from Australia’s international student trade, which has supposedly delivered $35 billion of export revenue:

We will also maintain a sharp focus on our international student programme, the largest driver of temporary migration to Australia.

Let’s be clear: international education is extremely good for Australia. It’s a $35B export industry, which employs more than 200,000 Australians. It is one of our largest export markets, behind only iron ore, coal and natural gas. To put that $35B in perspective, last year our total wheat exports were worth $4B a year, our total beef exports were worth $8.5B.

It goes without saying that the integrity of our educational standards is fundamental to our success in this area, and Education Minister Dan Tehan is working to ensure that those high standards are always maintained.

The education sector supports high skill, high wage jobs – the exact kind of jobs we want to develop. International education must remain a key feature of our immigration system.

According to David Coleman, international education is Australia’s fourth largest export, “behind only iron ore, coal and natural gas”, but dwarfing other goods like wheat and beef exports. The below table from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade supports Coleman’s claim, at least superficially:

As you can see, footnote (c) contains an important caveat to this $35 billion figure: “includes international student expenditure on tuition fees and living expenses”.

This is important, since international students studying in Australia are legally permitted to work 20 hours per week, and many also do so illegally. To the extent that the income earned is used to pay for either tuition fees or living expenses, it does not represent a true export but merely economic activity.

Indeed, an international student working and supporting themselves is no more an export than a domestic student living away from home and doing likewise.

Hence, international education exports are likely significantly overstated; although we don’t know what the true number is.

This brings us to a related problem with the Government’s attempts to grow international student exports. As we already know, Chinese accounted for 201,000 international student enrolments as at March 2019, way ahead of second placed India (101,301) and third placed Nepal (51,559):

However, the latest biannual student visa data from the Department of Home Affairs shows a strong rotation away from China towards these other two nations. That is, the number of visa applications granted from China fell by 3.3% in 2H 2018, more than offset by huge growth from India (53.5%) and Nepal (47.8%):

According to the Department of Education and Training, the average economic activity generated per Chinese student was $72,000 in 2018, which was well above that for students from India ($52,700) and Nepal ($56,600).

The reason is simple: Chinese international students generally pay higher fees to study at higher quality Group of Eight Universities. By contrast, students sourced from India and Nepal typically study at cheaper second-tier institutions or private colleges, often for the express purpose of gaining employment and future permanent residency in Australia.

Therefore, as Chinese international student numbers inevitably decline – due to factors like rising political tensions – Australia will need to attract increasing numbers of lower quality students from sources like India and Nepal to maintain ‘export’ levels.

May’s Four Corners special on Australia’s international student trade was particularly damning of the quality of students coming from the Indian sub-continent, reporting widespread instances of plagiarism, academic misconduct, and students failing their courses.

So, will Australia’s universities further desecrate both entry and teaching standards, and will the government grant even easier access to working rights and permanent residency, purely to pump up the international student market?

What about the negative impacts on pedagogical standards, wages, and congestion in our crush-load Australian cities?

Unconventional Economist


  1. And how much goes back in remiitances?
    Its a massive scam bringing third world scum here to fvck aussie kids out of jobs. We need to start lining these politicians up against the wall.

    • Well, obviously, for Straya’s international student trade to deliver multi-billion-dollar export revenue, Straya would need to source the students from rich countries. The trouble is, nobody from the rich countries want to come here any longer. After all, what for?

      • I have seen rich foreign students go back to China, Hong Kong, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka.

        The kid of a construction firm owner, the kid of a textile factory owner, etc.

        Learn how to improve your textile factory and go back. Not import dirt poor males from third world slums and let them stay here permanently because they pretend to be skilled.

    • Personally I think we should jack the Uni Fees for foriegn students up bu a couple hundred percent, and ensure EVER foreign issued degree comes with an Australian working visa.

      Foreign students could then be used as life time slaves, especially if we made it impossible to discharge education debts in bankruptcy. Because the fees would be high enough and the wages low enough every Australian household could have its own indentured Uni student pretty much forever.

      • So you’re telling me I could potentially have someone to do all of my household needs for next to nothing for the rest of my days? Who do I vote for?

      • If you jack up the fees by a couple hundred percent no international student would come here and then you would be left with a bunch of asylum seeker. Then who is going to pay your Center-link payments.And also the debts are mostly owned in their own country so all the money earned here goes back overseas. You are a joke why dont you fuck off back to Europe, Australasia is Asia backyard!

      • Hey Dumbo/Maggot/Sassy/SmallDickedIndian, Australia is European, our stock built it.

        That is probably enough of a history lesson for your tiny brain to absorb today.

        Now back as you were…. picking your anus no doubt.

  2. So every 2 ‘students’ allowed in can undercut a 40hr week worth of work from an existing Australian worker… Oof, howgoozzastraya!

    • Mining BoganMEMBER

      In reality those two students are working 60 hour weeks and are denying three of our kids a job.

    • Remember for every student, a full-working rights is given for their partner – so one student could equate to 60 plus hours per week less hours worked by an Australian.

  3. We need to dig up the uni education equivalent of combustible cladding and building cracks.

    That’s the only way to shut this scam down – scare away the student victims from India and China

  4. I graduated from ANU in 2015 and have recently gone back to start a Master program. In my experience, the Indian students are the higher tier students in terms of academic ability; while the Chinese students are more likely to have a lot of money backing them with the ability to pay others to do their classwork for them.

    • I am an Indian and let me assure you that ANY Aus degree is worthless back in India when it comes to employment. So they are either misguided about its value or they are here for the PR or they are rich kids with time to waste (I know a few).

    • I teach & assess many Masters students and supervise some. I’ve been advising people on these boards, elsewhere online, in real life, anyone who will listen: do NOT go to uni for a modern Masters qualification. Universities have used the Masters degree as a money-maker into which to pour foreign, full fee paying students. To keep up with the flow of foreign students, universities have hacked together tons of new Masters programs, so many of which are of exceptionally poor structure and low quality.

      Overpriced, poorly constructed, low quality degrees, with a market value of zero once the true nature is revealed.
      Overpriced, poorly constructed, low quality apartments, with a market value of zero once the true nature is revealed.

      Both hacked into existence to exploit the foreign income; Masters degrees are the degree equivalent of high-rise apartments.

      The Honours → PhD pathway is still legitimate, equivalent to older, established low-rise dwellings. Pick one of those, in a green-leafy suburb / uni and you might be OK. Though still overvalued in my opinion.

      As academics, we’re getting hit harder and harder with bigger classes of students with a lower average level of scholarship as entry standards have eroded. Meanwhile we’ve also had our teaching budget per student cut. For example, after budget cuts, I can’t afford to pay assistants to help in laboratory sessions. I can’t keep leaning on post-docs to do it voluntarily as they’re under enough stress already. Meanwhile, university administration is increasing its own pay quite handsomely!

      I’ve had an absolute gut full of it.

      • Not all masters are created equal. I did my masters at a US ivy league school (an MBA). At the time ranked #1 in the world for its MBA and the hard part was getting in – acceptance rate of less than 10%.

        It was a great degree and given how selective the university was my classroom environment was everything you would want it to be. But I agree the diploma mill masters appear to offer nothing …

  5. All is i see on this page every day is whining by a bunch of old irrelevant. Meanwhile your politicians keep letting in more and more immigrants and international students. No one seems to care about your Opinions In fact if they had their way they would gladly switch you for the international students.

    • I actually wouldn’t mind being switched for an International student – first preference Hong Kong where I’d be hooking myself for a fortune as a Western girl. No more competing with one million Chinese student hookers who have now saturated the Australian landscape with their skills of the art of no condom and no check up.

  6. Can we please have an economist tear apart this great exporting myth, in a wider public forum – perhaps a academic economist who has nothing to lose and perhaps wants to build their political profile?

    Calling Cameron Murray.

    • Hahaha which gonna pay for the academic economist if not for the international students. Better go back to your minimum wage job before the Chinese boss fires you!