Publication Date



This briefing was prepared by Dr Daniel Edwards, with assistance from Mr Stefan Nesteroff and Dr Hamish Coates.


The international student market is important and lucrative for Australian universities and the Australian economy in general. In 2006, nearly 15 per cent of all income of Australian tertiary providers was derived from international student fees, a total of $2.3 billion. This makes international education Australia’s largest service export and its third largest export industry overall. Between 2001 and 2006, enrolments of undergraduate international students in Australian universities increased 43.3 per cent. By comparison, the growth in enrolments of domestic undergraduate students in this time was much smaller at 1.7 per cent (DEST, 2001 - 2006). In 2006, 14.2 per cent of all undergraduate onshore university students in Australia were classified as ‘overseas’ or international students (DEST, 2006). The income from these students has helped universities to expand over this period, despite indications of a real term reduction in federal government investment in the sector. However, recent evidence indicates that yearly growth in this market is slowing. Figures from Australian Education International show that international enrolments grew by 5.6 per cent between 2005 and 2006, a considerably smaller rate of growth than that experienced between 2002 and 2003, when international student numbers increased by 17.2 per cent. It is unclear as to whether this trend will continue, but regardless of forecasted numbers, it is clearly important for universities to understand how the experiences of international students differ from domestic students and recognise areas in which engagement of this group could be enhanced. This is important so as to ensure that international students are well supported, motivated and challenged, and that they have successful outcomes. It is important in order to help maintain the important contribution of the international student market to the financial stability of institutions and the economic prosperity of Australia. To this end, this Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE) Research Briefing provides research-based insights on the engagement of international students. It first examines the engagement of international students, focusing on this cohort as a whole, and on specific sub-groups. Using this foundation, it explores more detailed differences between the engagement of international and domestic students.