Record international student enrolments at UQ for 2021 as universities offer online study discounts

Naaman Zhou
·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Patrick Hamilton/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Patrick Hamilton/AFP/Getty Images

The University of Queensland has enrolled a record number of international students in 2021, even as the border remains closed, as tertiary institutions continue offering discounts to keep foreign students studying online.

Queensland, Adelaide and Newcastle universities are among the major institutions in Australia offering discounts of up to 20% to keep international students enrolled online as they wait for travel to resume.

But UQ has warned its surge in enrolments is due to pent-up demand from students who missed out last year and numbers are expected to drop in the future if borders remain closed.

Related: Cutting Asian language courses at Australian universities hurting students’ job prospects, experts say

The University of Newcastle, which is offering a 20% discount, has told Guardian Australia that its scheme led to a higher than expected rate of enrolments and accepted offers.

This year, UQ’s international student enrolments rose to record levels – and enrolments from China rose 50% on 2020 levels despite widespread reports that students had been told by the Chinese government to avoid Australia.

As of semester 1, 2021, UQ had 17,956 international student enrolments, up from 16,612 in semester 1, 2019, before the pandemic, and well above 14,882 recorded in semester 1, 2020.

Chinese student enrolments rose to 11,265, up from 7,466 last year, and up from 8,995 in 2019.

The university has been offering international students a 12.5% rebate to enrol in a course and study online while still in their “home country”, with the aim to come to Australia when possible.

UQ said in February that 80% of new international students for semester 1 were offshore. However, the chancellor of UQ, Prof Deborah Terry, said in a statement on Monday that the record numbers of international students would likely decline over time.

“While international enrolments for this semester are stronger than we had expected, they reflect the trend we were seeing prior to the pandemic,” she said.

“This time last year some students deferred their study but, as time has gone on, they realise they don’t want to put their lives on hold. They are continuing to study online in the hope that borders will reopen and they can come to campus for the full experience.

“However, if our borders remain closed the outlook will remain uncertain and we are likely to see these numbers decline in subsequent semesters.”

Other universities, such as RMIT University in Melbourne, have seen a drop of 25% for new international student applications compared to the same time last year.

Vicki Thomson, the chief executive of the Group of Eight, of which UQ is a member, said in February other member universities had heard that Chinese authorities had warned students to stay away from Australia.

“There is definitely something afoot,” she told Nine newspapers at the time. “Either agents are being told not to direct students here or they are being told not to mention Australia as an option for study. But we’ve had no official notification from anybody.”

Related: Monash University signs deal with Indonesian government as universities diversify from China

A University of Sydney spokesperson said at the time: “We haven’t received reports that students are being told not to enrol in our institution.”

The University of Newcastle and the University of Adelaide are offering similar 20% fee waivers for those still offshore, while Charles Sturt University is offering a scholarship of 30% to international students who study in Australia as long as their “study plans have been impacted by Covid-19 border closures”.

At the start of the academic year, a spokeswoman for the University of Newcastle told Guardian Australia: “We opened this offer up to all returning and commencing international students currently located offshore. Pleasingly, we have seen conversion to enrolments at a higher rate than expected”.

Australian universities have also experienced a surge in domestic postgraduate enrolments.

Data on fee-help lending for 2021 compiled by the education department showed earlier this year that full-fee paying loans have doubled or tripled at some universities this year.

At the University of Adelaide, total fee-help loans are forecast to increase from $11.4m to $21.9m, Central Queensland University was projected to rise from $10.46m to $20.41m, and Charles Darwin University will rise an estimated 193%, from $470,00 to $1.38m.

Monash University’s fee-help loans were projected to rise 32%, from $78.7m in 2020 to $104.2m, nearly $30m.