This Week in Asia

Coronavirus to halve Australia's international student numbers - and not just universities will feel it

The international student crisis in Australia is causing a population shock that is only going to get worse, a new report by the Mitchell Institute has found.

The education policy think tank estimates that more than 300,000 fewer international students - half the pre-coronavirus numbers - will be in Australia by July 2021 if travel restrictions remain in place. The pandemic has already cut the number of international students who would normally be in Australia by over 210,000.

The report, Coronavirus and International Students, uses the latest data to map the impacts on international student numbers across Australia's cities.

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Where are international students now?

Since the pandemic began, the Australian government has released data showing the location of international students inside and outside Australia.

The table below compares the figures from March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, and November 2020.

International students inside and outside Australia.

The table shows total enrolments are down by 12 per cent since March 2020. Border closures mean new students are not replacing current students as they finish their courses.

The number of Australian-enrolled international students now studying remotely from outside Australia has increased from 116,774 to 138,060.

Enrolments from China have been the most affected. This is because travel restrictions were first imposed on people travelling from China in February. Many Chinese students were unable to enter Australia before the start of semester one in 2020 and remain outside Australia.

The data suggests Australia is facing the dual problem of fewer enrolments and fewer international students inside the country.

International students from China take pictures in their graduation gowns at the University of Sydney in July, after their in-person graduation ceremony was cancelled. Photo: Reuters

How will Australian cities be affected?

The Mitchell Institute has used the latest data to update previous research to explore the impact of the international student crisis on Australian cities.

The research shows the location and density of the reductions in international students vary by city. For instance, an estimated 72,000 fewer international students are living in Sydney because of the pandemic.

Inner-city regions have been the most affected. Areas with large Chinese international student populations, such as Hurstville in Sydney's southwest and Strathfield in Sydney's west, also show significant reductions.

Melbourne has experienced a similar reduction to Sydney - an estimated 64,000 international students.

Compared to Sydney, the reduction in numbers is much more concentrated in the inner city. There is also a notable reduction in Melbourne's southeast, near Monash University's Clayton campus.

Every major Australian city will be experiencing a significant drop in international students, although in different ways.

As the crisis continues, the impact on Australia's cities will evolve. The initial shock affected areas with large Chinese student populations. Further reductions are likely to involve students from other countries.

This will result in a more noticeable impact in areas with higher populations of non-Chinese international students.

A coronavirus testing facility in Melbourne, Australia. Photo: EPA-EFE

What can be done?

The location of international students is important. These students spend in the wider economy. About 57 per cent, or A$21.4 billion (US$15.5 billion), of the A$37.5 billion (US$27.3 billion) associated with the international education sector comes from spending on goods and services.

If international students are outside Australia, this will affect the many local communities and businesses that rely on them.

Trials are planned to bring international students back into Australia. This will help those whose studies have been disrupted by the pandemic.

However, it is unclear whether such efforts will be enough to reverse the downward trend in the number of international students living in Australia.

Australia's handling of the coronavirus pandemic might also create opportunities. Australia competes with other countries in the international education market, such as the United Kingdom and the United States.

Fewer coronavirus cases might make Australia a more attractive study location than other countries.

Ultimately, Australia's international education sector will look very different after coronavirus. The emphasis that the Australian government has placed on the international education sector suggests it is not a matter of "if" international students return, but "when".

It may also be wise to add "how" to the discussions. This is because there were concerns before the pandemic about Australia's reliance on international student revenue.

Planning for the return of international students will ensure Australia rebuilds with a sustainable and equitable international education sector.

Peter Hurley is Policy Fellow at the Mitchell Institute of Education and Health Policy at Victoria University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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