International numbers: three reasons why they are worse than new stats show

By Dirk Mulder

 Universities are reporting stress caused by the loss of international students but is not showing up in the stats – yet

The March YTD numbers for first semester intakes of international students are not as bad as all but universally expected.

Overall the sector contracted 0.8 per cent. Non-award suffered the largest decrease, 7.5 per cent closely followed by higher education, down 6.3 per cent and ELICOS at 4.9 per cent. VET was up 14.8 per cent and schools up 1.9 per cent. There’s a full breakdown of the March YTD figures in CMM tomorrow.

So, what’s going on? International education executives say three things could be disguising the drop that has occurred.

Delayed semester one commencements pushing the fall back to April stats

Some institutions pushed back commencements. Others were as flexible as possible about the start of the semester and the move to online. This involved moving their census dates back to the first half of April (even to month end) and/or extending the cut-off for withdrawal without penalty and subsequent trigger for reporting).

So, given a 14-day period for reporting non-commencements it is possible reporting finished just four days ago. If so the May data will reveal the real situation.

Leave of absences

International Offices have large numbers of leave of absence requests from students, which haven’t processed, or are only now about to be. Their impact on the overall numbers is anybody’s guess but that they are not yet counted certainly impacts YTD statistics.


Most institutions have purposefully attempted to keep students enrolled, allowing them to withdraw up until, in some cases, the last day of the teaching period. Institutions that have done this are bracing themselves for large numbers of withdrawals towards the later stages of the semester. One institution tells CMM they are starting to see withdrawal applications.

While students can withdraw without academic penalty whether there will be financial ones is largely unknown. Typically, approved withdrawals activate a fee credit for the following semester. CMM understands many institutions are yet to make decisions around this scenario at present.

Tomorrow: March enrolment data for international students: all the states, all the sectors

Dirk Mulder is CMM’s international education correspondent.