Inside education: industry now worth $1 billion to South Australian economy

By Nick Carne

International education is now a billion-dollar industry for South Australia, making it our biggest service export – even eclipsing tourism. Official figures show that we passed the magic barrier last year on the back of an 8.5% rise in the number of students enrolled in the State’s universities, vocational training institutions and schools.

And there’s increasing diversity. The more than 30,000 international students enrolled in South Australia this year come from 125 different countries. China leads the way, but you’ll also hear voices and ideas from nations as diverse as Kenya, Saudi Arabia and the US. South American students are more and more common, with Brazil in particular showing strong growth.

StudyAdelaide chief executive Karyn Kent believes Adelaide’s growing reputation as a great city (including being ranked the fifth most liveable in the world by the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Index) has added an extra marketing dimension to its already strong academic credentials.

“Everyone in Adelaide knows it is one of the best places to live, but making those most liveable lists certainly helps us sell the city to students overseas,” she said.

“Adelaide is attractive to international students because of its accessibility, affordability and its reputation for safety. We also have some great universities, schools and VET providers, and are known for providing great education. It’s no surprise students want to come here to study.”

Vietnamese student Hoang with a faculty member. Hoang is studying a Bachelor of Engineering in Robotics and Electronics and Flinders University (Tonsley Campus).

Vietnamese student Hoang with a faculty member. Hoang is studying a Bachelor of Engineering in Robotics and Electronics at Flinders University (Tonsley Campus).

The most popular tertiary courses remain in IT, business, health and engineering, but growth is being seen in areas as diverse as environmental management, urban design and the creative arts.

At a postgraduate level, StudyAdelaide has put a particular focus on promoting the State’s range of course options that can help students contribute to the needs of their home countries, including community health and sustainable energy.

There has been a strong rise in recent years in the number of students coming to Adelaide to complete high school, with around 1600 enrolled in different schools this year. A survey completed last year shows that school-age students – and their parents – are attracted by Adelaide’s reputation for being safe, clean and friendly, and for having a lower cost of living than other parts of Australia.

They also relate to Rundle Mall, and see it as the heart of the CBD. “Every single focus group participant in the study said that they visited Rundle Mall within the first week of their arrival in Adelaide,” Ms Kent said.

StudyAdelaide is also pleased by a significant growth in students coming here to undertake English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (commonly known as ELICOS). Many stay on to complete university or vocational courses in Adelaide.