Australia excels at exporting international student lies


The September quarter national accounts from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) claimed that Australian educational exports recorded their most successful quarter ever, earning more than $12.2 billion between July and September.

The national accounts said that education export earnings had surged by 68% in the 12 months to September against a 4.7% decline in the value of total exports.

Universities Australia (UA) – “the voice of Australia’s universities” – was quick to spin the result, stating last week that “education is performing better than major goods exports including coal, coke and other minerals which have all suffered significant declines over the year”.

UA also warned against policies that would curb the inflow of students, stating that the federal government needs to “recognise the significant economic and social contribution they make”.


“Education is the biggest export we don’t dig out of the ground”, UA Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said.

“It makes us tens of billions of dollars each year, supports tens of thousands of jobs and helps pay for the essential services all Australians rely on”.

“Australia has developed a strong, competitive edge in the global battle for international students through our careful and strategic work over many decades”.

“Any changes that restrict the movement of these people to our shores need to be weighed carefully against the enormous benefits they bring, during and after their studies”, Jackson said.

Catriona Jackson doubled-down on the spin in response to the Albanese government’s ‘nothing-burger’ migration reforms:


“[International education] makes us tens of billions of dollars each year, supports tens of thousands of jobs and helps pay for the essential services all Australians rely on”.

“We welcome further measures to preserve the integrity and strength of the education system while protecting students from unscrupulous operators seeking to exploit them for personal gain”.

“We also applaud the government’s steps to simplify graduate visas to improve the applicant experience and give both graduates and employers more confidence in their ongoing work rights”.

Education Minister Jason Clare also joined in the spin:

“International education is a key national asset – it is the biggest export we don’t dig out of the ground”, Clare said.

When will lobbyists, the federal government and the media finally admit that the education export number produced by the ABS is wildly exagerated?


Dr Cameron Murray published an explosive report in June explaining how the ABS’ international education export figure is “statistical trickery”, because the ABS counts all expenditure by a student visa holder as an export, even if it is funded by income earned while living and working in Australia.

I have made similar arguments for nearly a decade.

In reality, the majority of student visa holders come from low-income countries and begin working in Australia right away to fund their living and tuition expenses.

This is why we have heard repeated stories about international students struggling to make ends meet and having to rely on charity and food banks., alongside requests for additional taxpayer help for international students.


A significant number of ‘students’ have also enrolled in cheap private colleges in Australia with the intent of permanently settling and working there.

The faulty measurement of education exports promotes the appearance that the industry is a significant earner for Australia, when in fact, the vast majority of this “export” income is produced within Australia in low-skilled and low-paid professions such as driving Uber.

In turn, politicians have catered to the sector by increasing student numbers and “export” volumes by providing generous labour and migration pathways.


International education was never a genuine “export”.

Instead, they are the prime conduit for Australia’s immigration ponzi scheme, which raises housing costs, overburdens infrastructure, and lowers wages, decreasing living standards for the country’s younger and working populations.

Rather than constantly pandering to the industry to attract ever-growing numbers of students, financial thresholds for admission should be raised significantly and enforced, and employment rights should be restricted to only the most highly skilled.

Making international students pay for their living expenses and course fees with money earned in their home countries would transform them into actual exports, increasing their economic value to Australia.


It would also lower student numbers to more sustainable levels, reducing net overseas migration and competition for housing and jobs with younger Australians.

Sadly, the Albanese Government has taken the opposite path and opened the floodgates wider via its two migration agreements signed this year with India that, among other things, provides:

  • Five-year student visas for Indians, with no caps on the numbers that can study in Australia.
  • Indian graduates of Australian tertiary institutions on a student visa can apply to work without visa sponsorship for up to eight years.
  • Australia will recognise Indian vocational and university graduates to be “holding the comparable AQF qualification” for the purposes of admission to higher education and general employment.

These migration pacts will make Australia an even more attractive destination and will likely increase the flow of Indians seeking work and residency in Australia.

About the author
Leith van Onselen is Chief Economist at the MB Fund and MB Super. He is also a co-founder of MacroBusiness. Leith has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs.