By Matthew Knott, News Editor of Study Travel Magazine

Australia is certainly flying at the moment. No, I’m not talking about their mammoth score against England in the ICC Cricket World Cup – I’ve had a couple of jibes from Aussie industry colleagues but your words can’t hurt me, I’ve been conditioned by years of sporting failure!

Instead I am, of course, referring to the very healthy full-year 2014 international student data released by the Australian government this week. The country is certainly on the up, with a 12.3 per cent increase in enrolments to some 589,860 international students, and a 17.2 rise in commencements across all sectors.

Moreover, the country appears set to soon go beyond the 2009 ‘peak’, as there were record levels of commencements in the higher education, Elicos and non-award sectors last year.

Examining the data, the easy conclusion is that the Knight Review of 2011 and the subsequent streamlined visa processing for universities and more generous post-study work rights for international students is largely responsible for the positive returns. The fact that China and India were the two large growth markets – in terms of student numbers at least – would appear to corroborate this.

But in an interview with StudyTravel Magazine, English Australia Chief Executive Sue Blundell was keen to highlight that the data – which only refers to international students on student visas – is positive across the board. All bar one of the top 20 source markets for Elicos increased, with growth from distinctly non-academic pathway markets such as Italy, Thailand and Japan.

One element of English Australia’s analysis of the data that caught my eye was a 12-year tracker graph, which demonstrated how much markets and the overall shape of the industry can change over such a timespan.

In 2002, Australia’s second and third largest source markets were Japan and Korea. Twelve years later? Eighth and seventh respectively. Demographic changes and sluggish economic growth notwithstanding, would industry figures then have expected two such key markets to be languishing near the bottom of the top 10?

In contrast, Colombia, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia have grown from virtually nothing in 2002 to become fourth, sixth and ninth largest respectively.

What Blundell, and indeed the wider international education sector in Australia, will no doubt be hoping is that the growth across a broad spectrum of source markets should insulate against future shocks from one or two, thus avoiding the peak and trough volatility that was shown in another of English Australia’s 12-year graphs. 

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