If one thing was certain, the world looks different post pandemic and International Education is no exception.

The big two – China (The Tiger) and India (The Elephant) continue to dominate student flows. However recently released march data shows China, the bigger of the two pre pandemic is clearly slowing (down 27 per cent on same time 21) while India, the smaller of the two appears to be accelerating (up 29.6 per cent against March 2021).

China clearly has bigger issues: defence entanglement; the South China Sea; Pacific tensions; COVID origins. Defence Minister Richard Marles clearly has it right when he says the relationship is “complex”. It’s good to see the two sides at least talking this week.

In the meantime, India appears more friendly than ever.

“Australia and India are having best of their bilateral relationship.” Says Amit Malhotra, Regional Director (South Asia and Africa) for La Trobe University. He’s right, a new trade deal is in place and India is signalling that opening up to foreign universities is still in their plans. With increased interest in on-shore Australian education – what’s not to like about India?

In fact, according to Jamal Qureshi, Director Education (South Asia) at the Government of Western Australia India and Gulf office “As of March 13, 2022, over 25,000 Indian students had arrived in Australia since the government announced opening of borders to international students in November 2021.”

India looks good right? Abizer Merchant, Director India and Sri Lanka for Macquarie University tempers this somewhat believing the “spurt in applications for S1 2022 can be attributed to students who have been deferring their commencement from 2020-21 to avoid on-line study and that commencement data for 2022 should be compared to 2019 to get a more accurate view of market recovery.”

Semester 2 data will reveal all, however Merchant makes good a point – India is at 81.5 per cent of commencements against same time 2019 while China is at 50.3 per cent. In the meantime, investment in India will continue with CMM knowing of several universities significantly investing.


It is no secret that South Asian students and those from India place value in longer term migration opportunities. This isn’t in itself a bad thing, however when migration motivations overtake those of education it can become messy, quickly.

This is something Merchant points out, saying “concerns around the quality of applications and more specifically non genuine applicants, fraudulent documents leading to visa processing delays continues to dominate the conversation.”

“As a result, application processing times have grown substantially for most providers as there is a greater focus on implementing time consuming and resource intensive risk mitigation strategies prior to making a full offer to the applicant.”

Qureshi agrees, “There has been a significant spike in student numbers from South Asia for Australia, Canada, the UK, and the US since borders have reopened. Students have become increasingly interested in affordability, immigration opportunities, and career outcomes.”

Good points, which the new government will need to consider when reviewing the previous governments roll back of working hours for international students (CMM 15 February 2022) and skilled migration policy over coming months.

Too hard and it will stifle demand, becoming uncompetitive against alternate destinations. Too soft and we may unknowingly undermine the integrity of the visa programme. We know what this looks like and it isn’t pretty.

New (but somewhat old) Education Policy

Folks who know India are buoyed by recent announcements around the “New” National Education Policy 2020.

According to Merchant, it “supports greater engagement with international universities, however Indian providers will look for mutual benefit rather than simply articulating their students into Australian degrees. A framework around the setting up of foreign university campuses in India is being sought from the Indian Government.”

No doubt this will be the key feature of the policy Australian Universities will be looking for.

The new policy also has several reform proposals for the Indian system. Malhotra points out it “includes rationalisation of higher education regulators, funding for private sector research, structural change in school education and integration of vocational education.”

High-performing Indian universities will be encouraged to set up campuses in other countries and similarly selected universities from among the top 1000 in the world will be facilitated to associate with top Indian Institutes.

Still, the opportunity to set up shop in India draws most attention.

The time is now

With these reforms continuing and a positive relationship underpinning education between our two countries more and more Australian providers are looking to India, for good reason.

Merchant believes:

* there are limited concerns around COVID and most Indian students have taken Australian Government approved vaccines.

* a 700,000 plus Indian community in Australia will continue to be a major source of referral for prospective students into the future.

additional work rights and long term stay options will also see a greater spread of Indian students choosing to study outside Melbourne and Sydney.

* the recently signed interim FTA between India and Australia will create more interest in Australian products and services which includes a scholarship program and a task force looking at cross recognition of qualifications.

With China uncertain, there’s a lot to like about India – no other single country could look to fill China’s market gap alone but the Elephant is well and truly in the room.

Dirk Mulder advises education and business clients on trends in international education. He writes regularly for CMM



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