International Students and border dilemma




International students and the border dilemma

Sonja Johnson
: (07) 4041 1729
Chief Executive Officer
Regional Development Australia
Tropical North (RDA)

The recent announcement by the Queensland Government, that international students will return from early 2022, has been met with concern from the education sector, and other sectors which rely heavily on these students to fill jobs.

According to the Mitchell Institute, Queensland international student numbers dropped around 50 percent last year. In March 2020, there were 109,771 international students enrolled at Queensland institutions and now there are about 69,500.

Recent work by Cummings Economics for Study Cairns indicated that economic value pre-COVID, was approximately $130 million in direct expenditure. A large part of this expenditure is recorded as visitor (tourism) expenditure. By all accounts, recovery from the pandemic will be a challenge.

Over the years, the sector has moved from being strongly based on English language to be increasingly based on school, vocational, university and study tours. JCU has established new student accommodation and local tourism and hospitality businesses, as well as engineering firms and allied health sector, have come to rely on this group to fill rosters throughout the year. Their absence from our region over the past 18 months has left large gaps in our skilled workforce and will impact our region for years to come.

From a sector perspective, the Cairns region ranks as a leader in regional Australia. Student Visa enrolments in 2019 show that Cairns ranked second behind Darwin with 2608 students (Darwin 3031). Surveys conducted in 2018 confirmed these Visa figures but indicated that additional international education numbers, not on student visas, totalled around 32,000.

Twenty-seven percent were in university enrolment and 23 percent in our secondary schools.

Based on these figures and without a pandemic, Cairns would most likely exceed the other regional centres in total international student numbers. However, moves by NSW, Victoria and South Australia indicate that international students will start arriving as early as November 2021. As with all states, Queensland will provide priority to students studying medicine or allied health as once trained, they can support our local health sector.

But what of consumer choice? There is a real concern that Queensland will lose out to rival states due to the delay in opening our state’s borders. Students will vote with their feet and take up opportunities that enable them to orientate themselves in a new country and culture and gain employment, prior to commencing studies in February 2022. Indeed, Australia has no doubt lost some of its international student market to the United Kingdom and Canada who opened to students some time ago.

We need to ensure our policies are competitive to enable students who wish to come to Queensland, the ability to do so with flexibility.