February international student numbers: the worst is yet to come  

The official international student commencement and enrolment data for February does not deliver the significant falls the China travel ban was widely expected to deliver


Uni SA VC David Lloyd says the number crunch is like the big boulder Indiana Jones outruns in Raiders of the Last Ark. I suspect what we are going to go through is more Last Crusade, where the tank goes over the cliff and Indy slowly scrapes his way back up after all hope looks lost.  But whatever disasters will befall international education and training, they did not happen in February.

National numbers: Were up 1.6 per cent YTD, down 0.4 per cent for February

Higher education was down 0.8 per cent YTD and down 1.4 per cent for February

VET was up 10.1 per cent YTD and 10.5 per cent for February.

Schools were 2.3 per cent down YTD and down 2 per cent for the month.

ELICOS was down 4.9 per cent YTD and down 11.6 per cent for February. This appears to be the start of a trend.

Non-award was down 2.5 per cent YTD and down 3.3 per cent for February.

 The state of the states: NSW is all but on par YTD, up on same time last year by 0.8 per cent in HE, up 2.2 per cent in VET, down 4.8 per cent in schools, down 7.2 per cent in ELICOS and down 2.4 per cent in non-award.

Victoria is down 1.8 per cent YTD compared to 2019. HE is down 21.2 per cent, VET is up 16 per cent, up 9.6 per cent in schools, down 7.7 per cent in ELICOS and down 5.5 per cent in non-award.

Queensland is up 3.4 per cent YTD overall. It is up 6.4 per cent in HE, 2.8 per cent in VET, 5.8 per cent in schools, up 0.5 per cent in ELICOS but 4.2 per cent lower in non-award.

South Australia is up 17.7 per cent on the first two months of 2019. It is up 21.2 per cent in HE, up 45.8 per cent in VET, up 1.5 per cent in schools, up 10.3 per cent in ELICOS and down 17.7 per cent in non-award.

Western Australia is up 0.5 per cent on last year overall, down 3.7 per cent in HE, up 10.1 per cent in VET, down 9.5 per cent in schools, up 4.9 per cent in ELICOS and down 4.2 per cent in non-award.

Tasmania is up 13.1% on 2019. HE is up 7.1 per cent, 41.2 per cent in VET, 4.76 per cent in schools but down 42.1 per cent in ELICOS and 11 per cent in non-award.

Northern Territory is up 66.1 per cent, with HE up 34 per cent, VET 108 per cent, schools 46.6 per cent. ELICOS is off 50 per cent while non-award was 80 per cent better.

The ACT is down 8.49 per cent, with HE 16.2 per cent lower. VET is up 34.9 per cent in VET and schools 13.8 per cent up. ELICOS is down 39 per cent in ELICOS and non-award 3.8 per cent lower.

 Ahead of the China entry ban: It appears most, and I really mean almost the entire cohort, were already in the country prior to 1 February, or travelled to Australia via a third country to commence in February. ELICOS was the hardest sector hit while HE did not see much of the anticipated impact at all.

Trends and insights- nationally: Overall the China market is down 7.7 per cent, recording 35,761 commencements in the YTD period, down from 38,777 in the same period in 2019. February only, where a significant decline was expected, isn’t much worse with China being down 8.2 per cent. There were 27,194 commencements in Feb 20 v 29,609 in Feb 19.

ELICOS is hardest hit, being down 29 per cent YTD and 51 per cent in Feb only.

Higher Ed appears to have held-tight, being down 1.1 per YTD and 1.8 per cent February only.

VET is down 13.7 per cent YTD and 18.8 per cent Feb on Feb.

Non-award is down 10.9 per cent YTD and 11.2 per cent for February.

Trends and insights – the states:

Queensland and Northern Territory recorded growth from China in the Feb YTD period. Queensland is 7202 v 7056, same time in 2019.  The Northern Territory is up 116 v 71 same time in ‘19. In Queensland, this is driven by an extra 526 in HE. In the NT both HE and VET increased.

Victoria’s schools sector is up with an extra 14 students YTD.

South Australia overall is slightly down (0.7 per cent) largely due to losing 139 in non-award, higher ed is up 9.3 per cent or 143 students and VET is up 20 per cent.

In WA, everything except Higher Ed is down, overall, by 7 per cent, on the back of a 17.5 per cent decline in ELICOS, 29.6 per cent decline in non-award, 33.6 per cent decline in schools and 19.3 per cent decline in VET. Higher Education is up 2.7 per cent.

Tasmania is up 16.6 per cent in VET but down in every other sector and down 13.3 per cent TYD overall.

ACT is down 35 per cent overall with ELICOS lower by 83 per cent and HE by 35.2 per cent.

 Enjoy the numbers while they last. Indiana “education” Jones is going off the cliff in March, with no chance of a happy ending


Dirk Mulder is CMM’s international education correspondent