Understanding the full value of international students

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. This unveiled how the values of international students 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.

Studying Abroad during COVID-19

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. Let’s take the example of the United States. 40% of American Nobel Prizes won in chemistry, medicine, and physics have been awarded to international students since 2000. Furthermore, students after returning to their homeland often build a network of connections. They also gain a strong 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 has the potential to support over 130,700 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) employees in 2014–15, accounting for 1.3% of Australia’s total employment.

Australia’s current international students can contribute 130,000 skilled migrants to our workforce after their graduation. This 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. This has helped to generate new jobs, support wages, and lift the living standards of Australia. The international students play an important role in addressing skills shortages in areas such as nursing, 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 Job Keeper 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 significant support to the students. This includes 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, this relationship is reciprocal as well where they contribute significantly to the Australian economy as well. More than the tuition fees, international students also offer a range of present and future benefits for their host countries. To make Australia as a trusted education destination, it’s time to reframe the value of international students. This is an opportunity that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought, to rebuild a resilient, inclusive global society.

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