Australia’s International Student Enrollment for 2021

Australia’s international travel restrictions have been extended until mid-February and are expected to continue for most of 2021. Till 12th February, less than 5000 international arrivals will be allowed per week – and returning Australians will be prioritized over visiting students and other foreign nationals. Most student arrival pilots – except one in Northern Territory – have so far not gone as planned. Pilots in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia have been delayed or suspended.

These factors will impact the intake of international students in Australia for 2021. As per data from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE), enrollment of continuing or returning international students declined by 13% – from 580,202 as of 15th October 2019 to approx. 502,000 at the same point in 2020. It implies that a substantial number of international students will return to Australia in 2021.

The DESE indicated that at least 381,546 international students might have enrolled on 1st January 2021. The deferred starting of programs from 2020 will also impact enrollment patterns for 2021. DESE had recorded above 97,000 deferrals by October 2020. Of this, around one-third have resumed or completed their studies since; another third have rescheduled for upcoming intakes (this group will form the majority of students planning to continue or commence their studies in 2021); the final third is yet to reschedule their program starts.

Importantly, 18%-23% of international students enrolled in Australian educational institutions as of 15th October 2020 are studying remotely from outside the country – amounting to 90,000 to 115,000 offshore students. Commencements for July to October 2020 also fell by 36% – from 204,000 in 2019 to around 131,300 in 2020. 22%-32% of these students commenced their studies from outside Australia. New commencements of students without any prior enrollment in Australia have also declined.

Most students who have the weakest attachment to Australia, i.e., have not yet begun to study in Australia, who have driven commencement declines. Prospective and new students and enrolled students studying online will impact overall enrollment levels in 2021. This year’s student intake depends on international students’ desire to commence new courses and their ability to enter Australia in the coming months.

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