It’s official: International students won’t return this year

Education Minister Alan Tudge has told The Age that the success of the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout will determine when international students are able to return to Australia. He says it is unlikely that foreign students will be allowed to return in large numbers until 2022, although universities may be able to enrol limited numbers of students from overseas.

Tudge will also use a speech today to argue that the strong growth in onshore international student numbers in recent years was unsustainable, and universities need to rethink this business model. Specifically:

  • Australia must “rethink” the on-campus business model of international education, and more broadly the international education strategy for the nation as a whole.
  • By using international student fees to fund research, universities have undermined the learning experience of domestic students and failed to address skills shortages.
  • Half of all international students are enrolled in management and commerce, which are not experiencing skills shortages.
  • Australia’s universities should look towards online rather than onshore education.

According to Tudge:

“This incredible growth has been good for our economy, but even before COVID hit, strains were appearing and the continued rate of growth of on-campus enrolments was not sustainable in my view. This is particularly true for our public institutions which have a broader mandate”…

“Having up to 60 per cent of a classroom with international students from just one or two other countries is not optimising the Australian student experience — or the international student experience”…

“Can we use levers, including migration levers, to encourage more students to study in the areas where we know we have shortages?”.

It is good to see that Alan Tudge is not attempting to placate the vocal edu-migration lobby, which is pressuring the federal government to open the international border to students, as well as demanding easier pathways to permanent residency.

My view is that we need reforms that simultaneously lower international students to sustainable levels, lift quality, and maximise economic benefits. This can be achieved via:

  1. Lifting entry standards to study at Australian tertiary institutions (especially English-language proficiency);
  2. Raising financial requirements to enter Australia; and
  3. Removing the link between studying, work rights and permanent residency.

These reforms would: 1) lift student quality; 2) increase export revenue per student; 3) lower enrolment numbers to more sustainable levels in line with international norms; and 4) raise teaching standards and the experience for domestic students.

Australia’s tertiary education system must return to its primary mandate of teaching Australians. It must abandon ‘higher earning’ for ‘higher learning’.

Unconventional Economist


  1. ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

    What the hell is our Rub & Tug industry supposed to do!?
    Ya can’t help but feel sorry for our reusachtige.

    • NoodlesRomanovMEMBER

      I had to go through the South Brisbane Tafe campus a month ago – seemed like there would be plenty of takers for the Cert III in Creative Digital Insertion.

  2. They already have returned. There were a bunch in woolies with their phone out taking photos of all the prices (I assume theyre doing their research/shopping around).
    Who do we think has been using all the quarantine places? Why are so many Aussies still stuck os? I think these students are just trying harder and are beating them to it.

    • my toranaMEMBER

      so interesting. has the lobby gone kinda quiet? that would mean they’re getting what they want. but it can’t be in significant numbers. I must check the stranded aussies hashtag on twitter.

      • Something is definitely going on. Lots of faces back on certain campuses. Apparently UQ enrolments are only down 4%.

  3. Fantastic news. Unfortunately there will still be a fair few coming in though. The Victorian Govt is setting aside 10% of hotel quarantine placements for international students, and skilled migrants etc, starting 8 April, and no doubt Gladys will be setting aside even more places in NSW.