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Australia – pathways, visas, destinations


Claudia Civinini picks apart government data to reveal some surprising facts about the Australian international student market – where it comes from and where it’s going

Last year saw Australia welcome over 453,500 international students, of whom 163,542 (35 per cent) began an English language course. They contributed AU$17.0 billion (£8.3bn) to the economy, making international education the country’s third-largest export. The average length of English language courses was 12.9 weeks, amounting to an impressive 2,109,691 student weeks.

The future could have even more interesting figures in store. As English Australia’s executive director Sue Blundell told the Gazette, ‘2015–16 will be a watershed period for international education in Australia, with a number of different developments all coming to fruition at the same time.’ Blundell has been appointed to the Coordinating Council for International Education, which will be responsible for finalising Australia’s first National Strategy for International Education. A new simplified student visa framework will also come into effect next year. These are two promising developments for the Elicos sector.

The Gazette analysed data from the Australian Department of Immigration and the Department of Education and Training to understand more about the demographic that animates this thriving sector of the Australian economy. We looked at where international students – particularly Elicos – come from, what educational pathways they follow, what visas they apply for and where they prefer to study.


According to research by the Department of Education and Training, two out of five international students go into Elicos as their first step. In 2013 35 per cent didn’t undertake any further study, 34 per cent proceeded to university, 23 per cent to VET (vocational education and training), 3 per cent to school and 5 per cent to non-award education. However, pathway choices vary significantly according to the nationality of the student (see Figure 1). The choice of pathway is reflected in the type of student visa subclass that the student applies for.


Student visas are divided into subclasses indicating the sector (independent Elicos sector, higher education, etc.) where the student intends to study. Students can decide to combine different types of course (for example Elicos and university) but the subclass they apply for must reflect the main purpose of their studies. Figure 2 shows the total student visas (every subclass included) granted by nationality in 2013–14, whereas Figure 3 shows the top ten nationalities granted Elicos student visas in the same period.

Considering that China is the first nationality per student visas granted and the biggest Elicos market (see Figure 4), why is it not in the top ten countries for Elicos student visas? The reason is in the pathways Chinese students choose to follow (see Figure 1); the overwhelming majority of them enrol at university, and thus apply for a higher education student visa, with a preliminary Elicos course to fulfil English language requirements. Brazil and Colombia, conversely, are the top nationalities for Elicos student visas because the majority of their students only attend an Elicos course in Australia without undertaking any further studies.

However, according to English Australia only 66 per cent of Elicos students were in Australia on a student visa in 2014. The remainder chose the flexible working holiday visa (15 per cent) or a visitor visa (19 per cent). For the visa preferences of the top ten Elicos source markets, see Figure 5.


International students can be found everywhere in Australia. For Elicos students, however, the Australian capital as well as Tasmania and Northern Territory are yet to be discovered. The best-loved destinations seem to be the iconic cities of Sydney and Melbourne and the beach paradises of Queensland (see Figure 4).