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Chinese student enrolment in Australia has held up well throughout pandemic: minister

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Strong cues for Chinese students to return to Australia. Source: Wang Zhao/AFP

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Monday that fully vaccinated international students would be able to return to Australia from December 1 without travel exemptions. This would allow more than 80,000 Chinese ­student visa holders to travel to the Land Down Under for the first time in almost two years, reported the Daily Mail. 

Data from the Department of Home Affairs shows that Chinese students are Australia’s primary student visa holders, followed by India and Nepal. A total of 65% of 123,000 Chinese enrolled at Australian universities are offshore. The daily, quoting The Australian, said the federal government expects Chinese students to return to Australia “in line with students from other countries.”

“We have high-quality institutions, an unmatched quality of life and competitive visas. I note that overall enrolments from China are down only 7.5% since 2019 when the average is 17%,” education minister Alan Tudge was quoted saying. 

While onshore learning offers students a variety of opportunities, fuelling students’ intent to return to Australia, overseas enrolments have held up well compared to other countries with Chinese students considered more ­resilient and capable at adapting to remote study. “One of the things that we’ve seen throughout the pandemic is that Chinese student online enrolments have held up incredibly well,” tourism minister Dan Tehan was quoted saying.

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said international students contribute 3.1 billion Australian dollars a year to the economy and support for 250,000 jobs.

International education was the country’s fourth-largest export after iron ore, coal and gas before the pandemic struck. International students comprise 21% of Australian university enrolments in 2019. 

return to Australia

Australia announced that it would be relaxing its borders, enabling students to return to Australia without an exemption. Source: Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP

Chinese students eager to return to Australia

In a separate report, experts predict a rebound in Chinese international students returning to Australia next year based on a survey on Chinese internet users from mainland China.

Australian economist and Maven Data founder and managing director Elisa Choy and global migration expert and The University of Sydney associate professor Anna Boucher conducted a study and measured what the Chinese think about education in Australia and other competitor countries. 

According to the authors, of all of the four countries considered for Chinese sentiment towards education, Australia came out as having the strongest affect measures of engagement, indicating future demand, they said on The Interpreter.

They also found that sentiment towards education in Australia was overall positive. Australia was followed by Canada, then the US and UK.

“The level of engagement with Australian education by the Chinese market increased significantly since we last tested this in November 2020,” they said. Researchers also found that Chinese sentiment toward Australian education is almost entirely positive, and this has improved since 2020. 

“There are strong expectational cues among the Chinese for Australian education, which is a promising signal for Australia (despite the heated political discourse between Canberra and Beijing),” said authors.

“They are waiting for borders to open and are ready to act, which provides a good basis to forecast a better-than-expected recovery of international student migration moving forward.”