Can India become our biggest international student market?

As it currently stands, India is Australia’s second biggest market for international students, trailing far behind first placed China.

As at August 2019, there were 240,000 Chinese nationals enrolled to study in Australia, almost double the 126,000 Indian nationals enrolled (see next chart).

The imbalance is even greater with respect to ‘exports’ from international students (comprising course fees and living costs paid).

In the 2018-19 financial year, Chinese students spent $12 billion in Australia, more than double the $5.5 billion spent by Indian students (see next chart).

With Chinese international student numbers approaching their peak, as reflected by falling visa applications (see next chart), commentators are increasingly pinning their hopes on India taking the mantle as Australia’s biggest international student market.

The latest example of this thinking came yesterday via The Australian:

India has 850 million people under the age of 35 who need to receive an education. The sheer growth rate of the country sees one million Indians turning 18 every month.

Despite the availability of some world-class educational institutions, such as our own university, there simply aren’t enough higher education places to satisfy demand.

This perhaps explains why Indians already constitute the second largest group of foreign students studying in Australia…

As the Varghese report says, if Australia can maintain its growth in international students and recapture its share of Indian students from its 2009–10 peak, then direct revenue from Australian education exports to India could exceed $12bn by 2035…

India is the largest opportunity in the world for Australian universities.

The reality is less rosy, with Indian international students facing a number of new headwinds, which should curb enrolment growth going forward.

First, amid growing concerns around student quality as well as reported scandals involving Indian students, the Department of Home Affairs recently graded Indian student visa applications as “high-risk”, thus requiring applicants to demonstrate higher English-language proficiency as well as greater capacity to support themselves financially once in Australia.

These changes are clearly designed to prevent lower quality students from entering Australia, as well as to stop Indians from taking up bogus courses as a backdoor to gaining working rights and potential permanent residency.

Second, the Morrison Government’s recent reduction in Australia’s non-humanitarian permanent migrant intake, from 190,000 to 160,000, has reduced the probability of gaining residency following completion of their studies, thus reducing the incentive to study in Australia.

Third, and directly related to the above, the United Kingdom announced recently that it would match Australia’s two-year post study work rights, thus making Australia a less attractive study destination (see next chart).

Finally, there are question marks over whether Indians are wealthy enough to drive a large increase in students studying in Australia. As noted by professor Salvatore Babones:

Australian universities are so eager to demonstrate international student diversity that they have even started offering scholarships that are specifically targeted at Indian students…

The fact that they must offer scholarships in order to attract more students from India and other “non-traditional markets across Asia” underscores the reality that the number of families in the region who can afford to pay full fees for an Australian university degree is not large enough to support Australian universities’ international student enrolment ambitions…

Even if a sufficient number of financially-capable Indian international students could be recruited to diversify Australian universities’ dependence on Chinese students, recruiting them would likely require Australian universities to reach deep down into the talent pool, reducing standards still further…

University entry and teaching standards have already been trashed enough without reaching further down the quality barrel.

Leith van Onselen


  1. India will be our biggest everything… Biggest source of future Australians. And since Indians are all Christians and identify with Western civilisation, Smoko is getting everything he wants.

    Hang on… Hin-what? Sihk-who? Oh dear…

  2. Easy.

    Just increase the PR opportunities (a combo of merit/price and lottery would work) and work rights while studying.

    Plenty of people willing to cough up big bucks for a Golden Ticket to down under.

    Teaching standards?


    • In Peachystan, we don’t do standards.


      You name them, we don’t do them. We don’t do standards and we don’t do accountability.

      I’d have thought that somebody would’ve connected the dots ages ago, yet everyone keeps treating these things as discrete phenomena, so I have to point out the obvious.

          • It’s been 12 years so far. The shortage-deniers seem to have disappeared, but sadly the housing shortage has not.
            The Sydney (and Australian) housing disaster is pretty much off-the-scale as far as what could reasonably have been expected a few decades ago.
            I get some comfort from the fact that, in general life, worse things can happen. Being jammed into a Chinese concentration camp, a fatal car crash, and certain medical problems, are more serious afflictions than not being able to afford a decent house. A bit of perspective helps.

            If I had to make a prediction I would say I think we have a bull-trap and the bubble-top was last year. That’s my guess. But as you well understand, if we keep importing people faster than we obtain/build/allow good stuff, then average living conditions will continue to deteriorate. Does price really matter in that situation?

  3. Can India become our biggest international student market?
    I don’t know, we might need to lower our standards but we’re getting good at that, so I’d say it can be done.
    Australia can find BS jobs and equally BS courses to study for every Indian that accepts our Faustian trade.. We Aussies certainly have no moral compass guiding our actions, we’re champions when it comes to F’ing our own kids…absolute world F’ing champions .
    So, yep all things considered, I’m positive, it can be done and we can do it.
    How good is Straya?

  4. Given the collapsing birth rate in Australia at around 1.7 per women. There will need to be a massive increase in immigration to keep the elites happy. It wont be long before it collapses to 1 then 0.5.
    How can the next generation of kids afford a home to raise them in ? I keep hearing that childcare is the solution but these places don’t house 8 year olds’ over school holidays. My children simply will not have kids.
    Off course it is all be design, destabilize society by upsetting culture, and moral standards, then the state will take over the breeding and raising of children.

  5. It is not an export.

    In the short term, money comes in, but more money (principal plus interest) from the Australian economy gets sent out of the country to pay back Indian loans for courses, as we allow these ‘students’ to work here.

    Time to kill the ‘export’ myth.