What is ‘international education’?

Last updated: May 2016

There are various definitions of what is ‘international education’. One definition is that it ‘allows students to think with an international or global perspective through connecting them with different societies and belief systems which will help them understand and embrace cultural differences and similarities’.

International education covers many aspects including, but not limited to:

  • international student recruitment
  • international admissions
  • student mobility
  • international compliance and governance
  • international student administration and student experience
  • transnational education (TNE)
  • international partnerships, relations and networks
  • internationalised curriculum
  • pathways

Key facts

Last updated - March 2017

  • The education of international students generated a record $20.3 billion dollars in total export income for Australia in 2015/16 – up 8% from the previous financial year.
    Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics. Also see Australian Department of Education and Training - Research Snapshot

  • International education (IE) is Australia’s largest services export and third largest of all export industries, behind iron ore and coal.
    Source:  Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Australia’s trade in goods and services, DFAT, Canberra.
  • The export revenue was estimated to support over 130,700 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) employees in 2014-15, accounting for 1.3% of Australia’s total employment. 
    Source:  The value of international education to Australia, Deloitte Access Economics
  • Deloitte Access Economics estimates that onshore international students contributed between 0.3% and 1.4% to the GSP of each state over financial year 2014-15. International education also employed between 0.3% and 1.5% of the States’ workforces in FTE terms over the same period.
    Source:  The value of international education to Australia, Deloitte Access Economics
  • According to Austrade marketing data, there are over half a million international students studying in Australia (537,499 in October 2016).
  • The Higher Education sector had the largest share of enrolments at 42.2% in 2015. This was followed by Vocational Education and Training (VET) at 26.3% and English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS) 22.5%. Schools accounted for 3.2% and non-award courses (such as exchange and foundation programs) at 5.8%.
    Source: Australian Department of Education and Training; End of Year Summary of International Student Enrolment Data
  • At the end of 2015, the top 5 nationalities contributed to 51.0% of Australia’s enrolments in all sectors – China 26.4%, India 11.2%, Vietnam 4.6%, South Korea 4.5% and Thailand students 4.3%.
    Source:  Australian Department of Education and Training; End of Year Summary of International Student Enrolment Data

  • In 2013, international education was identified as one of five super growth sectors set to drive Australia’s future economic prosperity as it transitions to a services economy.
    Source:  Positioning for prosperity? Catching the next wave, Deloitte Access Economics
  • Australia’s first National Strategy for International Education 2025 enables Australia’s international education sector to be more innovative, future-focused and globally engaged. It aims to maximise the sector’s contribution to Australia’s economy society and international standing, with ambitious targets to reach 1 million inbound students and 10 million students offshore by 2025.
    Source: National Strategy for International Education 2025 
  • There are several peak bodies in Australia that are involved in international education including ACPET, English Australia, Australian Government Schools International, Council of Private Higher Education, IEAA, Independent Schools Council of Australia, TAFE Directors, Universities Australia and CISA.
  • International education in Australia provides benefits to other industries, including:

    • Skills shortages - International students could play an important role in addressing workplace shortages in certain sectors. In particular, for the hospitality sector, nursing and aged care and accounting. Many restaurants and agricultural producers are reliant on casual work by international students.
    • Innovation - International students could play an important role in helping to start small businesses and participate in start-ups in Australia.
    • Tourism - Many international students help support the tourism sector by returning to Australia for holidays or business meetings after graduating.
    • Trade - International students may play a role in facilitating trade between Australia and their home countries.

Terms and definitions

Transnational education (TNE): According to Jisc, ‘transnational education’ refers to the provision of education qualifications from institutions in one country to students in another and can be delivered via various models including international program partnerships, offshore campuses or distance education.

Pathway programs: According to IEAA, ‘pathways’ is defined broadly to include award and non-award programs, foundation studies, enabling and short bridging courses, with or without credit transfer to a principal course.

Enrolments vs. commencements: Enrolments show what courses international students are studying across Australia’s different education sectors. There are more enrolments than students since a student can study in more than one course in one calendar year. Commencements are new enrolments (a subset of all enrolments).

Useful links

Department of Education and Training - International education

Department of Education and Training - Research snapshots

Austrade – Education

Other useful links

Key dates

21 January - Online submission opens

1 March - Online submission closes

May - Call for proposals notifications

4 June - Registration opens

1 August - Early bird registration closes

15 October 2019 - Conference starts