International Students Made Significant Contribution to Australia’s Economy Despite Border Closures

On December 15, 2021, Australia reopened its borders to fully vaccinated international students who can now enter the country without needing a travel exemption. This was a significant move for the top study destination that had been one of the most strict countries when it came to closing its international borders to travellers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Key Takeaways

  • Some international students who are currently overseas but are enrolled in Australia have chosen to study remotely, and pay tuition therefore, contributing to the Australian economy.
  • Data from the Australian Bureau of Statstics show that the tuition from enrolled students outside Australia in 2020 totalled to $3.3 billion.
  • Strategic partnerships and pathways programs, with and through education technology, will play a valuable role in the recovery of Australia’s international education sector.

Despite the border closures in the past years, based on the research published by the country’s Department of Education Skills and Employment (DESE), “international students studying from outside Australia during the COVID-19 crisis [have made] an important contribution to the Australian economy.”


The DESE, with the assistance of the Department Home Affairs, gathered data on international students enrolled and studying in and outside Australia: The number of enrolled students outside the country has grown from 66,000 in July 2020 to 120,000 in March 2021. 

On a positive note, this international growth helped lessen the negative impact of the declining number of enrolled students in Australia.


In an education summit, Australia’s former Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne revealed that the international education sector contributed about $40 billion to the Australian economy in 2019.


Preliminary data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that the tuition from enrolled students outside Australia in 2020 totalled to $3.3 billion. This amount was said to help offset the projected $18 billion loss in 2021 due to the country closing its borders on international students.


The DESE reiterated that these international students studying from outside Australia during the pandemic “are making an important contribution to the Australian economy.”

March 2021 Numbers

Sustainable Solutions

Strategic partnerships and pathways programs, with and through education technology, will play a valuable role in the recovery of Australia’s international education sector.

With the border closures, according to the ABS, there were only 260 international student arrivals in April 2021. For comparison, Australia only had 30 international students in April 2020.


Australia’s top sending markets in 2019 were China, India, Nepal, Brazil and Vietnam. China and India accounted for more than half (55 percent) of international students. 


With regard to the financial impact of COVID-19 on universities, Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said on February 21, 2020: “A lot will depend on how long travel restrictions continue, and the mitigating effect of flexible study options.” Universities Australia is the peak body representing Higher Education in Australia.


More than a year later, as the numbers and financials had shown going into the third quarter of 2021, it had become imperative for higher education institutions to embrace and immediately implement flexible study options. This could be accomplished through strategic partnerships and pathways programs, empowered by edtech, as highlighted by the results of online learning.


A timely initiative launched by education management M Square Media (MSM) in February 2021 is the MSM Higher Ed Pathways program. This enables students to start their courses from their home countries, which will allow them to save on tuition costs and living expenses, before completing their degree at an international institution. 

MSM Higher Ed Pathways has established its presence in Australia through one of the world’s leading institutions: Griffith University.


The partnership enables Griffith University to engage with other degree-granting institutions in a global consortium, which articulates the existing Pathway curriculum and provides advice on the design of future study abroad pathways for international students. 


In the next three years, this Pathway curriculum will be carried out by MSM delivery centers in over 50 cities worldwide.

“The programs address the challenges posed by the pandemic in terms of stricter border controls with more stringent health restrictions, and the impact to disposable income of  international students and their families. By making available pathway options that allow students to begin their studies in or near their home country with options to complete their degree abroad, we make international education more accessible and affordable,” said MSM Higher Ed president, Donna Hooker, at the launch of the said pathways initiative.


“Griffith University is delighted to be partnering with MSM Higher Ed on this exciting initiative. We are committed to providing students with pathways that provide them with an excellent academic preparation into the University, and look forward to welcoming students to Griffith in the coming years,” said Griffith University Vice President – Global, Sarah Todd, in a news release.

With this development, the international education sector is keeping a close eye on Australia from this point forward. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)

MSM VP Global Suneetha Qureshi

MSM President-Global Marketing Office (GMO)

Suneetha has more than 10 years of experience in the international education sector. As president of MSM GMO, she fortifies its business development outreach globally, particularly in the face of MSM’s foray in edtech-based recruitment via MSM Unify. She preserves the premium, value-adding services provided to each GMO partner institution, including dedicated teams on the ground, agent management, lead generation and inquiry management, application pre-screening, and student and parent support through pioneering pre-departure briefing sessions.


She has an impeccable track record of successfully launching the representative offices in Asia and Africa of many North American and European higher education institutions. Her key strengths include hiring, training, and developing teams as evidenced by the successful results of the dedicated in-country college and university client teams.

Suneetha also has taken the lead in developing several initiatives at MSM, including building robust standard operating procedures, the Rise ‘n Shine team engagement platform, and the organization’s data analytics and audit segments.

Data sources:

Kelly, L. (2021, May 16) Australia sticks by plan to re-open border in mid-2022. Reuters. Retrieved from


International students outside Australia due to COVID 19 (2021, May) Department of Education Skills and Employment. Retrieved from


Visentin, L. (2021, April 21) ‘There’ll be a shakeup’: International student intakes plunge compared to pre-pandemic levels. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from


Tomazin, F. (2021, April 4) International student losses set to punch $18 billion hole in economy. The Sunday Age. Retrieved from


Overseas Arrivals and Departures, Australia (2021, June) Australia Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved from


Australia’s foreign enrolment up to 10% in 2019 (2020, February 26) ICEF Monitor. Retrieved from

Student wellbeing and support remain our focus as travel rules extended (2020, February 21) Universities Australia. Retrieved from


MSM Higher Ed Pathways. MSM Higher Ed. Retrieved from


MSM Higher Ed unveils Pathways Program with Ties to the World’s Leading Institutions. MSM Higher Ed. Retrieved from


We will be happy to send the MSM reporter to your inbox every Thursday. Please enter below details to confirm your subscription.

Get in Touch

Get In Touch

Get In Touch

This website uses cookies to assist to personalize content, analyze our traffic, and to assist with our promotional and marketing campaigns. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising, and analytics team who may combine it with other information that you’ve provided to them or that they’ve collected from your use of their services. For more information about your cookies and how to change your settings, refer to our Privacy Policy.​



We will be happy to send the MSM reporter to your inbox every Thursday. Please enter below details to confirm your subscription.

Yes, I would like to receive the Top 12 trending news from the international education industry.