International student numbers continue to surge


Labor’s federal budget projection of 395,000 net overseas migration (NOM) this financial year is looking even shakier following new figures showing that the number of international students enrolled at Australia’s universities was 17% higher than in 2023 as of March.

The figures also show that a record 160,000 international students have enrolled at the nation’s top eight universities in 2024. This is 32% higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Some 100,000 new students from China have enrolled at Australian universities in 2024, predominantly the so-called Group of Eight.

Meanwhile, overseas enrolments at non-Go8 institutions are now just 8% higher than prior to the onset of the pandemic.


According to data from 19 universities in metropolitan and regional locations, only two—the University of Sydney and Federation University Australia—saw their percentage of international students fall during the past year.

Fifteen had a larger proportion of international students in the first semester of this year compared to semester one last year.

The data aligns with the Department of Home Affairs’ temporary migrant data, which shows that there were a record 671,4000 student visas on issue in March, up nearly 90,000 from the year before:

Temporary student visas on issue

Let’s be honest: the federal government’s 395,000 NOM projection for 2023-24 is wildly understated given that net permanent and long-term arrivals were tracking at record levels in the March quarter:

Quarterly net arrivals

This series has traditionally tracked very closely with the official quarterly NOM data, as illustrated in the following chart:

Australian immigration

Therefore, it seems likely that Australia’s NOM will end up clocking in closer to 500,000 in 2023-24.


That said, annual student visa arrivals have topped out near 800,000, whereas departures are catching up:

Student visa arrivals and departures

The Albanese government’s tightening of student visas has also reduced student visa grant rates:

Student visa grants

Source: Shane Oliver

Given the government’s tightening of student visas, the federal budget’s prediction of 260,000 NOM for 2024-25 seems reasonable.

However, 260,000 NOM would still be approximately 40,000 more than the 220,000 average NOM reported during the 15 years of “Big Australia” migration prior to the pandemic.


This pace of immigration would ensure that Australia’s population continues to grow at a greater rate than homes and infrastructure can be constructed.

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.