The international student bust has arrived

Last week, I released detailed temporary visa statistics from the Department of Home Affairs, which showed that Australia shed around 420,000 temporary visa holders in the year to September 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of Australia’s international border:

One of the main drivers of the decline in temporary visa holders was international students, where the number of visas on issue plunged by 157,000 in the year to September:

Other data sources also show a big decline in international student numbers owing to COVID-19.

Monthly short-term travel statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows that the rolling annual number of international student arrivals halved in the seven months to August, from 621,400 to 308,900:

International student enrolment data from the Department of Employment shows that new enrolments fell by 71,600 (-18%) in the year to August, with all three of Australia’s major source nations – China, India and Nepal – each declining in numbers:

The biggest declines in enrolment numbers were in Higher Education (-35,100 or 22%) and ELICOS (-25,600 or 33%):

With Australia’s international border likely to remain shut for the foreseeable future, student numbers are likely to decline further in the year ahead.

We view this as a good outcome. While we support the international student trade if it is structured appropriately, Australia’s recent boom became an economic handicap by:

  • being far too large, in turn crush-loading infrastructure and housing, as well as oversupplying the labour market and crushing wages;
  • gutting pedagogical standards;
  • corrupting free speech rather than improving our understanding of the world; and
  • encouraging autocracy here instead of democracy overseas.

Returning international student numbers to sustainable levels will help safeguard ethical and pedagogical standards, as well as tighten the labour market.

It’s one of the positive externalities to arise from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unconventional Economist
Latest posts by Unconventional Economist (see all)


  1. That is an awful lot of accommodation freed up for the locals. No wonder SFM is baying for blood.

  2. “Returning international student numbers to sustainable levels will help safeguard ethical and pedagogical standards, ….” what I am seeing is cost cutting being used to get rid of the trouble making academics who stood up for those standards. Cost cutting elsewhere to reduce number of assessments, lectures and exams. No casuals. This hasn’t impacted the VC types yet.

    • Someone ElseMEMBER

      Yep. Last “Plenary” the VC announced cost-cutting across the board…except for the executive leadership.


  3. “With Australia’s international border likely to remain shut for the foreseeable future”…. This is NOT a valid assumption when it comes to international students. Scummo is preparting to open the borders to them early next year. The whole ‘stranded aussies home by Christmas’ line is being run to enable this.

  4. run to the hillsMEMBER

    The private “colleges” who offer vocational training to international “students” are going to be wiped out completely if the border remains shut for much longer and they can’t enrol new students to replace those that “graduate”. I imagine a fair few students have thrown in the towel and headed back home it that was possible, as they’ve lost their employment, which is the primary reason they were here anyway.

    • The main reason they are here is to work their way up the visa chain to PR. The number of jobs is limited by the number of ‘partners’ UberEats/Hungry Panda/Deiveroo et al are willing to sign up i.e. there is NO limit.

      For those currently without work rights / suitable ID etc), accounts (i.e. the mobile device) and e bikes are loaned out for a ‘shift’ and a suitable split of earnings (i.e. exactly per the taxi industry model).

      Go and have a look at the car park of any 24 hour McDonalds at 0100AM and see the clusters of bikes with glowing screens waiting for jobs in the freezing cold.

      Those that are here are holding on to what they have which is physical presence in the country.

      They know that if they go home now they will never be able to come back. They see a long ladder that starts with huge visa/agent fees in India/Nepal/Bangledesh. They are 2-3 rungs up now and their only choice is to hold on.

      • Yep. Or just get Reusa to do a census of the relations girls. Morning at tafe / private college; afternoon at the parlour; evening waitressing at a restaurant; late night back to the parlour.

      • Same thing for all the couples from South America that grunt at the counter staff or just shove their phones in faces to pick up the order.

    • “While I was in Australia I working alongside studying. That made me capable of paying my tuition fee and look after my expenses on my own, but now I cannot contribute to my fees and this is creating a big financial stress for me.

      Excuse me????? So this whole ‘export’ thing was a crock anyway since the fees are only coming from on shore earnings in Australia. Why can’t they get a job in India and, you know, use some means of wiring the money to the University.

      Oh and it seems Australia is being used as a locale to work off old Indian debt as well

      I also have a personal loan to pay off that I took when I first came to Australia, but now that I’m stuck in India, the financial burden is leaving me with no choice but to defer my semester, said Mr Goyal

      If you read the rest of the article, they become much more coy, but the subtext – especially in the FB comments – is very clear – some of them are very worried about completing their studies whilst still offshore and not being eligible to move on to the next onshore visa on the PR pathway once they graduate.

  5. Chinese students will not be coming back for reasons we all know. Majority of these students were coming here with money to spend.
    Once we open the borders, we will also need to make sure our economy creates enough jobs as Indian and Nepalese students (majority of them) don’t come with money and need to work to support themselves.
    I seriously doubt even if borders open, we will see large influx of students. Some Chinese students will be back in order to finish their studies, but I don’t think China will allow new ones to enrol.

  6. This is great news BUT i don’t see how we keep the borders closed until next April – they will be trying to ship infected students in from January.

    Good news is India / Nepal are likely covid hotspots. Maybe some virus gets in from that channel and gums the corridor for a while ….

  7. Reus's largeMEMBER

    #scottyfrommarketing is going to open the borders to international students in Jan, the Uni’s are accepting applications / payments for foreign students to come and study here in the new year.