Australian universities are facing a new challenge as domestic students are increasingly discouraged from enrolling due to the buoyant labour market and the rising cost of living. This has led to a rebound in international enrollment, which is compensating for the decline in domestic enrollment.
According to institutional accounts released by more than a quarter of Australia’s public universities for 2022, undergraduate and master’s enrollments declined at all ten institutions. The overall student numbers fell at all but one. Meanwhile, international students’ share of university places grew at nine of the ten institutions. According to the report of Times Higher Education.
Why are Domestic Enrollments Driving Down in Australia?
University of Melbourne analyst Frank Larkins noted that this trend is a reversal of 2021. At that time domestic recruitment had largely compensated for the mild downturn in international enrollments. Despite predictions of a horror 2022 for international earnings due to closed borders, the figures show that Australian universities were facing more disruption from domestic conditions than international settings.
A strong jobs market combined with rising costs of living has made full-time study less attractive to domestic students. As a result, eight of the ten institutions attracted declining revenue from Hecs-Help, Fee-Help, and the Commonwealth Grant Scheme. This has led to a funding decrease of more than 3%.
Demographic projections show the number of Australians of school-leaving age is rising steadily, with the growth rate set to accelerate from 2024. However, undergraduate applications are continuing to slip from last year’s modest levels. Sydney’s Universities Admissions Center saw a 5% decrease in applications compared to last year, while Perth experienced an 11% decline.
The challenge for Australian universities is to attract and retain both domestic and international students in the face of these domestic conditions. Griffith University does not expect to return to a surplus until 2026, and James Cook University Vice Chancellor notes that attracting and retaining students remains a challenge in regional centres. Despite this, the figures suggest that universities have been more resilient than expected.
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