Latin America sees surge in international education

29 Mar 2018


  • Amy Godfrey
  • International education

The Department of Education and Training has released full year international student data for 2017. Key results show increased growth rates:

  • 624,001 international students[1] were studying in Australia in 2017, an increase of 12.9 per cent on 2016
  • An increase in total onshore enrolments[2] of 12.7 per cent on 2016 to 799,371; above the 5 year average annual growth rate of 11.1 per cent, and
  • Commencements[3] increased 10.9 per cent on 2016 to 455,680

Total onshore enrolments and annual % change - all markets

China and India continue to dominate market share, accounting for 39 per cent of total enrolments, and just over half of the total increase in enrolments in 2017. Nepal moved from being our eighth largest market in 2016 to our fourth largest in 2017 and has experienced rapid growth; a 56 per cent increase in enrolments translated to a further 14.2 per cent share of the total volume increase. China, India and Nepal combined now account for 44 per cent of total enrolments and over two thirds of the 2017 growth in enrolments by volume.

Top 10 source markets by total onshore enrolments 2017

Rank by 2017 onshore enrolments 2016 2016 % change on 2015 2017 2017 % change on 2016 Rank Change
1. China 195,731 15.4% 231,191 18.1% -
2. India 77,841 8.2% 87,615 12.6% -
3. Brazil 29,347 19.6% 36,496 24.4% +3
4. Nepal 22,684 15.3% 35,423 56.2% +4
5. Malaysia 28,295 17.4% 32,899 16.3% +2
6. Korea 30,444 6.5% 31,112 2.2% -3
7. Thailand 30,316 9.6% 30,730 1.4% -3
8. Vietnam 29,589 0.8% 30,536 3.2% -3
9. Colombia 17,092 22.4% 21,628 26.5% +2
10. Indonesia 19,751 2.6% 20,028 1.4% -1
NOTE: Table contains both commencements and continuing enrolments.


Fastest growing markets

Latin America (LATAM) markets’ share of total onshore commencements has increased from 9 per cent in 2015 to 11 per cent in 2017. Brazil and Colombia are the largest markets from LATAM and the only two non Indo-Pacific markets in the top 10 source markets for international students. Enrolments from these counties have almost doubled in five years to over 70,000 enrolments.

Four of the top 10 fastest growing markets by onshore commencements in 2017 were from LATAM.

Fastest growing markets by commencements, 2017 % change on 2016

Brazil became Australia’s third largest source market in 2017, up from sixth in 2016, with growth of 23 per cent in commencements. Demand for an Australian education has been driven by a difficult domestic jobs market, the requirement for fluency in English for entry to the best universities in Brazil, a desire to learn English to improve employability, a more favourable exchange rate and the attraction of combining work with study in Australia. ELICOS[4] commencements grew by 23 per cent and account for over half of the total increase in commencements from Brazil in 2017. VET[5] commencements also grew strongly, by 39 per cent, and higher education by 30 per cent.

Colombia moved up two places in 2017 to become Australia’s 9th largest source market by total enrolments. Commencements increased by 24 per cent in 2017. It is the third largest market for ELICOS students behind China and Brazil, and the second largest source of higher education and VET students from Latin America. ELICOS accounted for 72 per cent of total enrolments from Colombia in 2013, but has dropped by 12 per cent to 60 per cent share in the five years to 2017, while VET has doubled its share to 33 per cent.

Chile is Australia’s 27th largest source market and experienced a 32 per cent increase in commencements during 2017. Australia is one of the most attractive study destinations for Chileans, with over 4,300 total enrolments in 2017. The VET sector is becoming increasingly popular for those who wish to undertake shorter programs such as a Diploma of Management. ELICOS commencements increased by 31 per cent and accounted for around half of total enrolments from Chile in 2017, while VET increased by 41 per cent.

Argentina became Australia’s 57th largest source market in 2017, up from 63rd in 2016. Commencements grew by 49 per cent. VET and ELICOS accounted for 86 per cent of commencements during 2016, both growing by over 60 per cent. Higher education commencements remained stable, and non-award enrolments declined slightly during the year.

Why is Australia such a popular destination for these markets? Survey data suggests that Latin American students value the reputation of Australia’s education system, providers and qualifications as well as opportunities to work during and after studying more than other nationalities when they were asked to identify the most important factors when deciding where to study (Source: Department of Education 2016 International Student Survey – excludes ELICOS students). In addition, Brazilians perceive Australia as a safe country with a similar lifestyle to Brazil and Peruvian students rate Australia the highest for lifestyle among competitors.

View the latest international education pivot tables and interactive dashboards.

[1]  Total headcount of international students in Australia on student visas
[2]  Onshore enrolments are total enrolments in courses from international students on student visas. A student can be enrolled in more than one course
[3]  Commencements are new enrolments for the period, a subset of total enrolments
[4]  English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students
[5]  Vocational Education and Training