Education Minister Jason Clare says the international intake of students has been smashed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but he hopes to turn this around given their importance to the Australian economy.
In particular, there was a 24 per cent drop this year in the number of Chinese students commencing university degrees in Australia.
“A big part of that is COVID, you have still got the Chinese government for zero COVID, there are local lockdowns in China that make it difficult for Chinese students fly out here,” Mr Clare told Sky News’ Sunday Agenda program.
He said there has been the same drop in Chinese students in the UK and US.
Mr Clare said education was Australia’s biggest export that wasn’t “dug out of the ground and it’s being smashed by COVID”.
He said while these students made billions of dollars for the Australian economy, they were also important from a “soft power” perspective.
“We educate students from around the world. The impact on how other countries see us is massive,” Mr Clare said.
He said he would be talking to the Indian education minister when he came to Australia in the next couple of weeks, and look at how to expand the number of Indian students in Australia.
But he said he would also like to see more international students not just study in Australia, and work in retail or hospitality while at university, but stay after they finished their degree.
Just 16 per cent of international students stay in Australia after they finish their degree.
“We train them here, we skill them up,” Mr Clare said.
“Where we have got skill shortages – they are chronic across the economy at the moment – it makes sense to encourage them to stay longer.”