Good news all round as foreign student numbers collapse

Data from the federal government, reported in The Australian, shows only 79,000 international students began courses in Australia during the first two months of 2021, compared with 127,000 during the same period in 2020.

English language colleges that feed the universities have been hardest hit, with enrolments down 69% year-on-year, whereas the nation’s universities have experienced a 36% decline in international students:

International student commencing courses

The number of international students commencing courses has fallen sharply.

Chief lobbyist for the edu-migration industry, Phil Honeywood, is crying foul:

“Clearly Australia needs a circuit breaker which can only come from a significant government policy shift.”

However, the vocational education sector has lost only 9% of commencing students compared to last year because it has recruited onshore students that have switched into vocational education and training (VET) in order to keep their student visas:

“Those students who remain onshore are desperate to keep their student visas and are dropping into inexpensive VET courses as a means of meeting their visa requirements,” Mr Honeywood said.

A 38% decline in foreign students at our universities sounds like a healthy phased reduction from the absurd pre-pandemic levels:

International student concentration.

Pre-pandemic, Australia had triple the concentration of foreign students as Canada and 2.5 times the UK’s.

Now the universities can lift standards, abandon group assignments, and focus on educating locals. Vice-chancellor salaries may also take a healthy haircut.

More broadly, there’ll be less crush-loading of everything in sight plus stronger wages growth.

Good news all around.

Unconventional Economist
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    • Niall de Santos

      also thanks to COVID-19: In the last 2 weeks my nightly spam/phishing calls from India have disappeared. Maybe just a co-incidence, but there’s always an upside.

    • Accommodation costs for local workersMEMBER

      But probably temporary for 1 more year. In 1 year they will have a COVID vaccination passport and have unlimited students again. There are no other ideas on how to do education in Australia. Big University = big Vice Chancellor and other salaries.

      And meanwhile – if businesses have to pay higher wage to get a local worker, as the local worker has huge housing costs from the property ponzi. – see the article this week of how the chef in the country town left, back to Sydney, as there is no rental accommodation. Apparently foreign chefs don’t need accommodation – they expected to live in a campervan?.
      For overseas students, getting a job is only part of the benefit, no problem lower salary , or even to work in Uber or a cafe, as the degree includes PR and residency for the family.

  1. Lord DudleyMEMBER

    It’s all about willingness to fail students. When I did Mathematics 1 at Adelaide in the early 90s, they failed 30% of the class. That didn’t count the people who pulled out early and got a “Withdraw No Fail” ranking. Computer Science 1 was similar. There were third year projects such as “Compiler construction and project” that also had epic failure rates.

    By the time you got to 4th year (aka Honors, which was by invitation only), an original class of a couple of hundred had been reduced to about 20.

    This made the qualification valuable. In order to make a qualification valuable, you have to maintain standards, and enforce them consistently. Australian universities used to do this. Back then, a credit average in a bachelors meant something, and it wasn’t bad. Even making it into the honors course meant something, even if you didn’t do well.

    • Unemployment.MEMBER

      They can lower the numbers before graduation by failing students, or just graduate more students than jobs, and half have to drive Ubers. Not a liveable salary at Australian housing prices, but there are extra benefits of residency for foreign students , which are worth double the salary.
      There are many more equally qualified people or overqualified than good jobs, how do you select?.
      There are 12000 lawyers graduated a year now, for maybe 1000 graduate jobs.
      In some cartels like medical specialists they simply manage an exam to only pass enough for a quota that does not lower the salaries.

      • RobotSenseiMEMBER

        Medical specialities mostly have the intake as the chokepoint (especially for anything procedural); most non-procedural specialities are happy to take people but getting the job out the end is the hard part.

        But I certainly recall during my undergrad it being “every man/woman for themselves” which ten years later is now group assignments ahoy with a whole bunch of barely-literate types. When a friend of mine challenged the lecturer on this point they were told “well you’ll have to work in teams when you’re employed, won’t you?”

        Fast-forward a few months and my friend has no hesitation whatsoever in insisting the ESL student give the presentation to the key stakeholders, despite the protests of the lecturer. Afterwards they asked “so, is this the kind of graduate you’re going to hire?”

  2. SchiwagoMEMBER

    Leith, the relentless vilification of group assignments appears to be misinformed. Note that teamwork skills are crucial employability skills and for most graduates more relevant than discipline specific knowledge. Because of this group and teamwork are increasingly used and assessed in tertiary education.

    More importantly, such assessment is not limited to the evaluation of a single piece of work that will be marked with all team members receiving the same mark. These days peer assessment tools are widely integrated with team assignment task, meaning that a non-contributing team member will receive less marks compared to a contributing member or no marks at all.

    Beyond that, my own experience does not support your view that teamwork is always driven by the domestic students and that foreign students act as parasitic beneficiaries, who are being ‘educated’ by their domestic peers. On the contrary, foreign students frequently value their degree more than domestic ones, which makes sense since they pay a multiple of the fees. As such, I am dealing with teamwork issues on a daily basis typically involving a non-motivated and non-interested domestic student that is holding back the group. Likewise, I see many examples where international students are driving and leading the work.

    The condemnation of group/teamwork task at university based on the assumption that it solely is a tool to help international students get a degree at the expense of domestic students, appears to me pretty inappropriate and a ra ci a li st [sic].

    • Display NameMEMBER

      My anecdotal experience is that both my sons and *all* of their friends without exception have had the experience in one or more subjects of foreign students not pulling their weight. Both my sons have binned a foreign students contribution and rewritten it. The lecturers know and appear powerless to do anything.

        • Except they have been confirmed far and wide. Yours is the minority. You are literally one of the only academics that has given a positive assessment. There would be far more discourse in the media if academics weren’t so worried about retribution. Go read the ICAC university report, which surveyed academics (linked here). It will wake you up.

          • SchiwagoMEMBER

            and the minority is always wrong. again: just tryin to help and widen the perspective.

    • StephenMEMBER

      That’s not my experience. I had one where I literally had to do basically the entire project (it was an electronics design and software development task). Only one of the other three members was an international student (the others were just not very competent but it was a pretty complex project for second year undergrad). The international student didn’t have very good english and I tried a lot to work with her and walk her through the more basic parts of the software (she was in the software engineering program, I was in electronics engineering but knew how to develop software from my part-time job) but we didn’t get anywhere…

      By the time it got to peer assessment, it was actually done in a group where the three other members would fill out one form on the other member. The process really only worked if only one group member had not done the work, because of social pressure from the group setting. But even if it was separate assessment forms, it would still only work if only one or two of the group members had not done any work, because otherwise there would potentially only be one dissenting voice!

      I didn’t really care too much in the end, there was nothing I could do and I had other courses to worry about studying for anyway (all this is happening a few days before final exams), but it does suck. We all got distinctions in the end for the course.

      It’s not representative anyway of real-world team work. In that scenario, there’s team leaders or management that actually have some authority and keep track of what people are doing. You actually need to do your job or you get fired, the business can bring on people or shift people from other teams if there are skill gaps, extra training can be given as required, contractors or consultants can be brought in if necessary, etc.


      The recent STEM graduates that I’m familiar with all report carrying foreign students in group assignments, largely due to poor written and verbal English communication skills. Basically, unqualified foreigners who don’t know their subjects well, or even at all, are being granted degrees en masse by Australian tertiary institutions.

      • SchiwagoMEMBER

        I am running 2nd year science subjects with almost 800 students a year. we have assignments for teams of 6 students, this makes some 130 different teams every year, and I am doing this for many years. with this vast experience I can ensure you that everything that can happen in a team will happen. but I can also assure you that I am dealing with more issues around domestic students than internationals. MB is an echo chamber.

    • Absolute BeachMEMBER

      My children and their friends report that this is NOT the case. They ALL reported helping ESL students who were totally inadequate with basic language skills to pass group assessments. They are nice, helpful kids so don’t buck the system but resent it regardless.

    • I somewhat agree. Group assignments are a pain for many reasons, handholding illiterate international students is only a small part of it.

      There are plenty of foreign students that are fine in group assignments. There are plenty of local students who aren’t. I remember one Singaporean who would blatantly plagerise online encyclopaedias, one Chinese who said yes he understood to everything we did and turned in his final piece with no relevance at all, an Indian who handed in 5000 words for his 1000 word section and lodged a formal complaint when we edited it down. Also remember the local who sent a single email with 4 different excuses, couldn’t even lie competently. The local who handed me the final process design at 10 the night before I had to hand in the subsequent mechanical calculations.

      The main driver behind group assignments isn’t dragging foreign students through a degree. And it certainly isn’t about teaching teamwork, it is about cutting teaching and marking staff to the absolute minimum

  3. my toranaMEMBER

    Does that red column include kids in high schools? I assume so. Plus all the dinky colleges. Far out. And that’s not March, when uni starts.

  4. There was a piece on ABC radio yesterday where someone (think it was an infectious diseases person at ANU) was talking about Australia needing to immediately change it’s quarantine policy to have more stratification, mentioning multiple times that it would allow Chinese students (considered to be a safe zone) to return and by pass hotel quarantine.

    I suspect they are bleeding, and I love it.


      The ANU is cancelling courses left, right and centre because the bulk of the students in many courses were foreigners. A course that was viable with ten foreigners and one Australian isn’t viable with one Australian. So whole courses are disappearing. Those “in flight” will complete, but no new enrollments and the courses disappear.

      We’ve been subjected to a great endumbening.

  5. MathiasMEMBER

    Great news.

    I did group assignments back at TAFE when I studied ( prior to going to university ) and I have to admit, I enjoyed it. However, the way it was done was as a finale project. It served its purpose of pulling together ones combined skills, introducing you into a working team environment and introducing you to the real world. I never had Team work any other time. Everything else was solo.

    I liked TAFE. I would argue that the bulk of my Education came from TAFE. Very high quality teachers. Many where University lecturers who slipped into TAFE at nights because they believed more in what they where doing. Great teachers.

    University was a different form of education. Hugely theoretical, book pounding, lots of useless philosophy and trivially irrelevant stuff you couldnt bring into a workforce. Dont get me wrong, not that learning Calculus wasnt nice but I’ve yet to actually find any practical use for it in anything I’ve ever done.

    TAFE teaches you how to DO things. University teaches you how to SAY things. University seems to be for your elitist knobs who like to pretend they are clever but when it comes to getting the job done, I’d put TAFE above University anyday. I DO things because TAFE taught me which I feel, puts me miles ahead of most University salespeople for my field. I can walk into a business and hit the ground running while most University people are still stuck on the science.

    TAFE is good. Australia needs more TAFE’s. Sadly, the TAFE I went to got defunded, sold and the land now hosts Poker Machines.

    I’ve got more Qualifications then Toilet paper on my wall. The problem with Australia is the Enterprise Sector was so dysfunctional. Its great to have all these Qualifications but what are you going to do with any of it? The vast majority of jobs are either Sydney or Melbourne ( you’ll never get me moving to either ) and if you live anywhere else in Australia, your limited to farming, cadets and eventually joining the Army.

    The only industries that seem to be thriving in Australia are Real Estate and Health Care. Every other business is basically destroyed. That limits your choices for occupation.

    a) Your never getting me to move to Sydney or Melbourne. I hate the places ( especially Sydney ).
    b) After all my Qualifications, your not getting me picking fruit in some farm.
    c) Stability matters. Im not giving up my stable self-employment for some dead end 6 month contract to be unemployed again.
    d) You want me to work, then I work. Im not here for ego or to play beuracracy. You want your ego stroked, I walk.

    Now that Im understanding all this politics stuff, its no surprise this country doesnt get anywhere. Its entire Real Estate, Labor Force, Enterpreneurialst and Education Sectors are in complete shambles.

    The political sector is corrupt. Australias Labor Force is uneducated and flooded with cheap quality migrants. Feminism means you’ll never hire a woman again for fear of some sexual harrassment law suit so they’ve shut themselves out of employment. Internet and Real Estate in Australia is too expensive to run Enterprise. The education system is too expensive, misaligned to Australias needs, serves more as an elitist club then a means of gainful employment and isnt aligned to jobs when you come out the other end.

    I’d argue half of Australias problems are an Aging Population. The Boomers want to own all the power, sit in all the best jobs, scrape all the cash which is totally destroying Australian Society. On the other hand, they whine and b*tch that the young never steps up to buy the overpriced housing, pay the horrendous taxes, partake in the expensive education from non-existent jobs consistently stole by boomer driven migrants.

    The reality is its a joke. Your better doing a business course, running your own enterprise, having far less stress in your life and relishing in the happiness that you cant be sacked tommorrow. Live humble, reduce your debts and watch as Australia implodes.

    The Boomers have gone into a Corruption phase. Its not just one industry, its every industry. It has to die. There’s really no negotiating this. It just has to die. Whether we can reform Australia on the other end is the real question. Young Social Castration is now longer a temporary thing, its a 20 year lifestyle of corruption. I cant see Australia just clicking its fingers and solving all its problems tommorrow. The problems are now generational and I think its going to take a lot of time to undo this damage.

    Society is an interconnected web. What the bulls dont realise is when half your society collapses, the other half is impacted. So this, ” Im right jack, I got mine ” attitude is simply going to result in economic destruction. It might take a while but its still going to happen.

  6. GramusMEMBER

    as much as Phil Honeywood and the property/bizness parisites that have attached themselves to the industry might wish, it is never going back to the way it was.

  7. MathiasMEMBER

    The thing about Australia… is everybody wants Power… but nobody wants Responsibility.

    Neoliberalism isnt making us work harder. Its just destabilising our entire society.

  8. Peter SMEMBER

    The US Embassy suspended visa applications for Chinese students last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Chinese students’ willingness to study in the US has been gradually waning, after the two countries became locked in a series of competitions, including trade and technology disputes, and the former US administration continuously imposed restrictive and discriminative visa policies on Chinese students with certain backgrounds.

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