The number of new international students at Australian universities has nearly halved since prior to the pandemic, and new enrolments from China fell 22% last year, according to new federal government data.
Overall, there are now 43,000 fewer international students enrolled at Australian universities compared with last year, as the total number of enrolled students continues to drop.
And new starters from India more than halved, dropping 52%, compared with 2020.
This year only 30,768 international students commenced new courses in February, a 37% drop on the same time in 2020 (48,429) and a 47% drop on 2019 (57,913). More than 66,000 students started new courses in 2018.
New enrolments from China fell to 12,454, down 22% from 15,944 in 2020, and nearly half the 23,174 in 2019, prior to the pandemic.
But overall enrolments from China remained fairly steady. Total enrolments fell to 112,718 in 2021, from 119,561 in 2020, and 122,272 in 2019.
Currently international students can still enrol at Australian universities and study online as they wait for borders to reopen. Some institutions have offered discounted fees for online learning, while others are paying the full amount.
However, a recent survey found only 7% of students who had their hearts set on Australia were willing to study purely online, with the vast majority saying they would only enrol if they could eventually come into the country. Countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, which compete with Australia for international students, have opened their borders to students.
The total number of international students currently enrolled in higher education fell this year to 287,409 – down 14% from 330,499 in 2020.
Universities have previously warned of a “pipeline problem”, where current students who enrolled before the pandemic would finish their degrees in the next few years, with no students replacing them in 2020 or 2021.
The vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne, Duncan Maskell, previously announced that hundreds of millions of revenue would be lost over multiple years as Australia’s border closures continued.
According to the latest data, new enrolments in higher education from India halved this year.
Only 4,343 students enrolled in February this year, compared with 8,955 in 2020 and 11,107 in 2019.
Overall university enrolments from India were also low at 49,293, down 26% from 66,347 in 2020, and 60,718 in 2019. However, total enrolments had previously dipped to 46,564 in 2018.
The sharp drop in Indian students in higher education however was offset by a boom in enrolments in VET (vocational education and training).
Overall Indian enrolments in VET rose this year to 42,120, up from 32,463 last year, and much higher than the 19,027 in 2019.
There were 8,107 new enrolments in VET this year, up from 7,092 in 2020 and 4,499 in 2019.
Individual universities reported more mixed results. The University of Queensland, which offered discounts for those stuck overseas, enrolled a record number of international students in 2021, while the University of Sydney saw international enrolments rise 18%.
However, the chancellor of UQ, Prof Deborah Terry, said the trend was still broadly downwards and that “we are likely to see these numbers decline in subsequent semesters”.