Pastures are green for education’s $20bn cash cow

Almost half a million international students from nearly 200 countries studied in Australia in 2015, delivering nearly $20bn to the economy, new figures show.

The data, released by Minister for Tourism and International Education, Richard Colbeck, highlights the importance of the sector to Australia’s growing “knowledge economy”.

The 2015 figures revealed a growth of 10% on student numbers compared to 2014, with Chinese students making up 27.3% of all international students in Australia, the highest of any nationality, with India second, contributing 10.8%.

“The Turnbull Government is continually working to improve the competitiveness of the sector by streamlining the administrative burden for education institutions while maintaining strong protections for students,” Colbeck said in a statement.

“I look forward to releasing Australia’s first national strategy for international education later this year to facilitate further growth. The strategy will set a ten year vision to strengthen collaboration between all stakeholders in the sector.”

In September, Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull created the new post of Tourism and International Education Minister, underscoring the Federal Government’s view that the education sector is playing an ever-important role as the mining boom slows.

International student enrolments have now bumped education up to third place on Australia’s major export list, behind iron ore and coal.

In figures released earlier this month, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) said total spending by international students in Australia – including course fees, accommodation and living expenses – was $19.2bn in 2015, up from $17bn the previous year.

Schools in NSW and Victoria have been the most popular destination for international students, with 2,920 enrolments in NSW state schools this year and 2,815 in Victorian schools.

And this increase is driving revenue for many cash-strapped schools, with students paying fees of up to $14,000 to study in public schools.

Queensland’s state schools are receiving up to $30m in annual tuition fees from foreign students, with 2,500 of them enrolled in 75 government schools around the state.

With the number of international students attending state schools doubling over the last decade, the Queensland Government has invested $8m in attracting more international students.