The value of international students

International education and training (IET) is Queensland’s second largest service export and one of Australia’s top service exports, valued at over $19 billion in 2015 (including fees and associated expenditure).

A strong IET industry drives innovation, builds a stronger economy and creates more jobs, and is vital to the future prosperity of Queensland.

In 2015–16, Queensland’s IET sector:

  • Generated $3 billion in export revenue; and
  • Supported around 20,000 jobs (with one third of these in Queensland’s regions).

The contribution of IET to the Queensland economy takes a variety of forms and materialises across an array of sectors. Students contribute via their expenditure on tuition fees and study materials as well as their expenditure on accommodation, transport and their broader living costs. IET also spurs economic activity via the flow-on tourism it stimulates. This includes, most directly, expenditure by friends and relatives who travel to Queensland to visit an international student (estimated at $11 million in 2015).

A strong and sustainable IET industry also enhances global engagement, with alumni becoming lifelong ambassadors who understand Queensland and are likely to return and invest.

However, the value of international education goes far beyond this. It enriches communities, enhances Queensland’s global standing, facilitates international diplomacy, creates global business networks and improves our research status. Queenslanders also benefit from a global outlook and improved understanding of cultures through engagement with international students.

In 2015, Queensland hosted more than 100,000 students from primary school to tertiary education, coming from over 160 countries. These students were based across our state, from the Gold Coast to Cairns, Toowoomba to Townsville, Brisbane to Bundaberg and the Sunshine Coast to Rockhampton. This represents 16% of Australia’s international student numbers. At the HDR1 level Queensland is doing even better: our 3,200+ international HDR candidates constitute 19% of numbers Australia-wide.

A defining feature of Queensland’s IET industry is the way the industry’s activities are dispersed across Queensland. In the financial year 2014-2015, around 34% of all international student nights in Queensland were outside the state capital of Brisbane, compared to just 12% of similar students in New South Wales studying outside Sydney, and 4% in Victoria studying outside Melbourne.

Opportunity for improvement

IET has been identified as one of the fastest-growing industries in the global economy and Australia is expected to be a major beneficiary of that growth.

Growth of the middle class of key markets is likely to increase demand for a ‘global’ education, with a projected global shortage of 85 million medium-skilled and highly-skilled workers by 2020. As a result, 1.1 billion learners are expected to be participating in education by 2026 just from Australia’s key source markets. Deloitte Access Economics estimate that if Australia reaches just 1% of these global learners, Queensland could reach over 675,000 learners by 2026 if we maintain our current market share.

Under ‘business as usual’ assumptions, onshore international student visa enrolments in Queensland have the potential to increase from 103,200 in 2015 to 150,600 by 2026. By applying the forecasted cumulative increase in onshore student visa enrolments, the export revenue is forecast to rise from just over $2.8 billion in 2015 to $4.6 billion in 2026 for the Queensland economy.

Economic modelling also demonstrates that increasing Queensland’s share of Australia’s international student numbers by just 4% will lift potential export revenue to $7.5 billion and deliver an additional 6,800 jobs across the state.

For regional Queensland (outside of Brisbane), the ‘business as usual’ scenario projects student-related expenditure to rise from $937 million in 2015 to $1.5 billion in 2026. Under the aspirational target, student related expenditure outside Brisbane could rise to $2.4 billion in 2026. Given the opportunity to leverage tourism and the visiting friends and relatives (VFR) market, we also aspire to increase the number of student visitor nights in Queensland regions generated from international education.

Ensuring Queensland provides international students with the most positive and rewarding experience is crucial to the ongoing sustainability of the sector. This applies to the student experience both in and out of the ‘classroom’.

Prospective students are known to consider Queensland’s high-quality education and training institutions, including their:

  • Academic reputation (via rankings);
  • Employment outcomes; and
  • Word-of-mouth recommendations.

However, when considering an education and training provider, the vast majority of students will also investigate factors that contribute towards the total lived experience including:

  • Accommodation;
  • Cost of living;
  • Transport;
  • Location;
  • General living conditions; and
  • Day-to-day practicalities.

1 HDR stands for Higher Degree Research. In Australia, our HDR students (known as ‘candidates’) are completing a research degree, usually referring to a PhD. Click here for more information on what this means.

Note: Some content on this page has been extracted and modified from the following sources