Understanding the full value of international students

Oct 11, 2020

A report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) anticipated that by the year 2025, the number of international students will rise to a staggering eight million with an overall global mobility growth rate of 60 per cent in the decade between 2015 and 2020. However, the COVID-19 outbreak posed risk to international student mobility and also unveiled how the values of international students have been positioned solely in terms of economic gain which overshadowed the significant professional, social, cultural, and educational contributions international students make to the host countries.

 The economic impact that international students create can neither be exaggerated nor can it be confined within tuition fees, accommodation, food and clothing, travel, and other living expenses. Consider Australia, where international education is currently its third-highest export. While quantifying the value of international students, the figures indicate that international education contributes $40 billion in export revenue to Australia. But this measure of economic value based on tuition and living expenses does not capture the whole picture. The fallout of the pandemic has exposed how the public discussions and media have limited the value of international students to the revenue losses.

Here’s a closer look at the value that international students add to a host country.

Promoting global competitiveness

International students and scholars are a vital asset for a host country. Attracting the world’s brightest minds boosts innovation and growth. For instance, in the United States, 40% of American Nobel Prizes won in chemistry, medicine, and physics since 2000 have been awarded to international students. Furthermore, students after returning to their homeland often build a network of connections and an appreciation for American culture, thus promoting U.S. international leadership.

Job Creation and Uplifting Living Standards

Many arguments tend to position international students in competition with the locals for taking away their jobs. However, international students make a vital contribution to job creation in the Australian economy supporting more than 240,000 local jobs and numerous small and family businesses across the nation. The export revenue from the international students was estimated to support over 130,700 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) employees in 2014–15, accounting for 1.3% of Australia’s total employment. It is estimated that Australia’s current international students will contribute 130,000 skilled migrants to our workforce after their graduation which is a 3% increase in the share of Australia’s current workforce with tertiary education. The whooping revenue generated through the students has boosted Australian jobs and wages, generating jobs, supporting wages, and lifting the living standards of Australia. Also, the stakeholders noted that international students play an important role in addressing skills shortages in areas such as nursing and aged care, and accounting.

Challenges for international students

From uncertainty due to international mobility restriction to job losses and financial crisis, and from prejudicial behavior to a mental breakdown, the recent pandemic has created countless challenges for international students. Despite the job losses, they are not eligible for JobKeeper wage subsidies. Unfortunately, the spread of the virus also triggered the racist sentiments against Asian Australians and international students from Asia.

However, many universities and other education providers have provided a range of support to students that include fee deferrals, deferred studies or payments, food and accommodation, mental health, and other medical support.

Amidst all these challenges and hardships, the plight of international students should not be framed as an inability to withstand the adversity or lack of resilience.


There’s no denying international students have plenty of opportunities to take away from their time abroad but the relationship is reciprocal as well. More than merely their tuition dollars, international students also offer a wide range of present and future benefits for their host countries. In the course of strengthening Australia as a trusted and reputable international education destination for international students, it’s the time to reframe the value of international students amid the opportunity that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought, and rebuild a resilient, inclusive global society.