University Enrolment Trends: Growing ANZ International Student Admissions

Posted by Tribal Group

From leading the post-COVID recovery, to juggling various changes impacting universities and international students, admissions teams in the ANZ region have got a lot on their plates. So, if things have been extra busy in your enrolment department lately, it’s not just you. But it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on what’s driving your numbers — and what to expect so that you can start to get ready for the next enrolment period. 

So, we’re shining the light on some current university enrolment trends, forecasted predictions, and a few tips to help you and your admissions team stay on top of it all. 


Current University Enrolment Trends in ANZ 

Looking at the latest data on student numbers and preferences, there’s good news for institutions in Australia and New Zealand, with most indications pointing towards a strong recovery within the international education sector. 

Borders Reopening to Students 

Early 2023 saw a significant uptick in demand for international student placement worldwide (up 53% compared to the same period in 2022). Growth has been even higher in ANZ, with Australia and New Zealand seeing 71% more applicants. With Australia opening their borders in late 2021 and New Zealand following suit in August 2022, this likely helped to trigger a strong recovery.  

Australia and New Zealand Top Choices for International Students 

The results of a survey of 14,000 prospective international students across 147 countries revealed that Australia, the UK, and New Zealand were leading the way as study destinations in late 2022.  

Meanwhile, another report looked at student perspectives on studying abroad and found that Australia was slightly favoured over competing destinations due to its access to post-study work rights and opportunities to work during study. 55-60%+ respondents nominated Australia as their most appealing destination for these factors.  

Australian Student Visas Up 29% in June 2023

In Australia, international students on student visas totalled 622,032 in June 2023 — a 29% increase on the previous year. Making up this total include students from China (21%), India (16%), and Nepal (9%). Notably, the portion of Chinese students declined by 2%, while Indian students increased by 29% and Nepalese by 21%.  

The latest international student numbers in Australian higher education show 335,577 enrolments, with a total of 109,013 commencements in 2023. This exceeds the number of commencements in 2019, though the total number of enrolments has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels.

3000% More International Students Arriving in New Zealand 

After New Zealand reopened its border to all visitors and international students from 1 August 2022, the country saw a significant uptick in international student numbers. Stats show less than 200 visitors arriving in New Zealand for education purposes in both February 2021 and 2022. However, in February 2023, this number increased to more than 6000 arrivals for education purposes — 3000% more than the previous two years!  

Meanwhile, provisional numbers released in September 2023 show that the number of international arrivals for education purposes in 2023 totalled 35,550 between January 1 and August 13. 

Recovery Results Are Mixed 

Despite overall increases in student numbers, some institutions are seeing mixed results. 

At UQ, 2023 applications from international students were 27% higher than 2019, and 40% higher at the University of Wollongong. The increase in demand is reported to be largely driven by Indian students, with UQ seeing an increase of 150%+ from this group. Meanwhile, Australian institutions are experiencing mixed interest from Chinese students — with some seeing increases and others seeing decreases in demand. 

A number of factors could be causing different volumes of applicants and commencements. Some institutions may also be experiencing higher dropout rates and/or lower conversion rates, with fewer applicants progressing to enrolment. Reasons may include: 

      • Insufficient nurturing – Difficulty nurturing the influx of prospective students coming through admissions could lead to lower conversions and fewer applicants progressing to enrolment if providers haven’t yet hired more staff or upgraded their admissions systems to meet demand. 

      • Uncertainty – Students may be less confident due to challenging economic conditions or recent changes to student visa requirements. 

      • Target market changes – Some institutions may need to adjust their marketing strategies in line with university enrolment trends (e.g. with more demand coming from India and less from China). 

      • Changing study preferences – Some institutions may need to offer more suitable study options in line with current trends (e.g. online/campus flexibility; changing education field preferences; increase in postgraduate research commencements). 

Each institution in ANZ will offer a unique blend of location, community, work/study options, and student experiences. It’s not surprising that some are faring better than others. The key takeaway here is to consider how current and future trends might impact your specific institution, prospective students, and admissions processes. 

Predicted Future Trends in ANZ 

We’ve talked about some of the university enrolment trends we’ve seen over the last year, but what about the rest of 2023 and beyond? How might new government policies, emerging economic issues, and changing student expectations impact future growth and recovery in the sector? 

We’ve identified the following key considerations for institutions in Australia and New Zealand that will likely impact future enrolment trends: 

Approaching Pre-Pandemic International Student Numbers

Multiple reports suggest that things aren’t going to slow down for ANZ admissions teams any time soon.  

An EY report commissioned by Education New Zealand Manapou ki te Ao suggested that by 2030, international education's economic contributions could return to pre-pandemic levels of $3.7 billion. This is significant when you consider that in 2022, international education in New Zealand contributed just $0.8 billion to the economy.  

Meanwhile in Australia, some stakeholders are suggesting that the higher education sector could fully recover by late 2023, with numbers reaching pre-pandemic levels of 232,884 international students commencing studies and 523,829 continuing their course. This expected recovery is critical to the sector, as the percentage of continuing students dropped to 59% in 2021-2022 (a number that has historically been 67-68%) and international student numbers dropped by 4% in 2022. It's anticipated that 2023 will break the 3-year consecutive decline in international student enrolments. 

Stronger Links Between Australia and Southeast Asia 

Australian universities could anticipate stronger future demand from Southeast Asia’s growing middle class and youth population. This follows the Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, announcing a new regional plan to strengthen education links with Southeast Asia at the ASEAN Indo-Pacific Forum in Indonesia in September 2023. One of the strategy's recommendations is to increase investment in promoting Australia's education system to students within the region, and supporting cooperation between education providers to boost the recognition of qualifications. 

Trade Agreements Between Australia and India 

Similarly, with the Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement launching in December 2022, it's anticipated that higher education providers in Australia will have greater access to the Indian market.  

India's goal is to educate 500 million students by 2035 — and Australia's education providers will likely play an integral role in helping them to achieve this goal. 

Cost of Living Crisis and Lack of Student Accommodation 

One of the key concerns surrounding the growing number of international students in Australia is the country’s ability to accommodate them amidst the housing crisis. A lack of affordable accommodation and higher living costs will likely be a greater barrier to student enrolments than pre-pandemic years. This issue is highlighted by a student survey that found some 70% of students were skipping meals in order to afford rent. With many international students concerned about affordability and value for money, this is an issue that universities cannot ignore. 

Reports that student accommodation is at 100% capacity (some with years-long waitlists) are cause for concern, with a lack of affordable and accessible options to meet the needs of international students. Many students will face the added pressure of finding flatmates to share a rental with in order to keep costs down — a significant challenge for students that don’t yet know anyone in the country. 

Changing Restrictions and Requirements For International Students  

A number of policy changes have recently been introduced that impact international students in Australia. For example, the government announced an increase to the minimum savings international students are required to demonstrate in order to apply for a student visa. It’s important to ensure that prospective students are aware of visa requirements and any upcoming changes that might impact them. 

Another notable change is that from July 2023, the Australian government reintroduced student visa work restrictions, limiting students to 48 hours per fortnight while studying (with no limits outside of study periods). This limit was previously 40 hours per fortnight, but caps were temporarily lifted from January 2022 to address workforce shortages.  

Due to the higher cost of living, it’s fair to expect that many international students will be interested in finding local employment. Admissions teams need to be aware of the latest rules so that they can answer student queries, and help guide them to suitable resources. 

Learn More 

Overall, it’s certainly clear from the enrollment trends that student numbers are rebounding in Australia and New Zealand, but the post-pandemic recovery brings new challenges for higher education admissions teams. In our next blog, we’ll take a closer look at some of these challenges facing student admissions teams. 

In the meantime, you can check out some of our related content: 

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