To support the 2021 strategies of education providers, we have reviewed the key data trends of 2020 and highlight the key data insights which will help shape 2021 strategies. 

By Dimity Huckel and Keri Ramirez


The data journey to support your strategies starts today with a comprehensive review of 2020 data trends. We have crunched and analysed vast amounts of data and we believe that the best way to move forward in 2021 is to take a few minutes to review 2020 key data and consider some valuable lessons which will help universities prepare for 2021.

We invite you to watch the video below which contains a summary of our analysis:  


In 2020, international enrolments were down 4.6% and commencements experienced a significant drop of 23%.


Using year to date numbers from January and October (as published by The Department of Education, Skills and Employment, Australia), we can assess the overall trend for the Higher Education sector in Australia. At this stage, the sector experienced a drop of 4.6% in the number of international student enrolments in comparison with the same period in 2019.


As we know, the impact in total international student enrolments has been cushioned by the large cohort of continuing international students who started in previous years and who continued to progress in their studies in 2020. 




The greatest impact in 2020 was the significant fall in the number of commencing (new) international students. Data from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment shows a decrease of 23% in the number of commencing international students in comparison to the same period last year. The number of international commencements in 2020 compares to similar figures seen in 2017.



Impact in revenue  Revenue has been impacted even more

  Although the drop in enrolments was only 4.6%, the impact on revenue was higher because students took a lower study load. As students enrolled in less units, the impact on revenue for universities was higher.



Most of the top recruitment and source markets are down however, they have been impacted differently.


During 2020, the list and order of the top markets remained the same but as shown in the chart below, the drop in international student enrolments has been quite different in each market. For example, the drop in international enrolments from China was 2.8% in contrast to 10.3% from India. 



Diversity is important  Diversity helped to minimize the effects

Several top markets such as Nepal, Taiwan and Hong Kong experienced positive growth and other such as South Korea presented only a minimal drop in enrolments. The good performance, as seen in these diversity markets, has in some way sustained the overall number of international student enrolments and lessened the impact that other top markets had on overall enrolments as evident from China and India.



The 2020 numbers for India show a very interesting story. Students from this country represent the 2nd largest cohort of international enrolments in higher education in Australia and during 2020, unfortunately, this market experienced the most significant drop in enrolments and commencements. 

Enrolments from India fell by 10.3% in comparison with 2019 and commencements experienced a major drop of 44.7% with overall commencements similar to numbers seen in 2017.

The data for India also highlights that in early 2020 when COVID-19 impacted Australia, students from this country decided to defer their offers for Higher Education programs and transfer to the VET sector. They were most likely looking for a temporary study option which attracted lower fees and which would still enable them to stay in Australia. They possibly thought that the COVID-19 crisis may only last for a few months and then they would have the opportunity to convert back to their original study plan.

These preferences resulted in an impressive growth of commencements from India in the VET sector representing an increase of 32.9% or (8,623 students) more than 2019. 

The big question is...Will these students remain enrolled in VET programs throughout 2021 or will they decide to return to their original study plans at universities?



Diversity is important Lesson: Deferrals will be important

In 2021, deferrals will play an important role as many students are still considering their study options and there are still uncertainties which are affecting their final decisions. The management of deferrals should be at the core of any student recruitment strategy this year. 




Students from China unfortunately experienced the perfect storm with a large number of Chinese students affected by travel restrictions at the beginning of 2020. Universities and students have also been caught in the middle of geopolitical tensions which may raise challenges in 2021. 

Enrolments from China were down 2.3% in 2020 in comparison to 2019. Commencements were down by 13.9% in 2020. There are however some positive indicators of how Chinese students are engaging with Australia especially in the last few months. Commencements from China between July and October 2020 were up by 1.4% or 366 more students in comparison with the same period in 2019.

This positive response may be the result of many factors however, it is clearly the result of years of commitment between both nations to support international education initiatives and universities working hard to maintain strong relationships with partners to keep enrolments and commencements steady during this very challenging period. 


States and Territories Performance

There are mixed results for each State and Territory!




To better understand the full impact of COVID-19, it is very important to dissect the numbers and look at the results for each State and Territory. COVID-19 has affected everyone but in very different ways and the data related to international students enrolments highlights this trend. There are significant differences in the drop in international student enrolments which each State and Territory experienced in 2020.

For example, Victoria experienced a 9% drop in enrolments which is close to double the national average however, New South Wales reported only a 2% decrease for the same period in comparison with the previous year. In fact, South Australia and the Northern Territory increased the number of international student enrolments during 2020 which illustrates some clear differences across States and Territories.

It is therefore important to consult and analyse the key data in detail to obtain a clear view of enrolment trends and use these insights to support the development of future recruitment strategies in 2021. 



Diversity is important Looking at the data in detail is essential in 2021

The impact of COVID-19 has been quite different across States, Territories and Education providers. It is essential to look at the data in detail to identify specific challenges and opportunities in 2021.



We can provide you and your team with key data analysis and insights to support your future strategies.

Purchase our special 2020 Key Data Review report

The report will arm you and your team with a greater understanding of the current data trends and will assist you in forming strategies to enhance international student recruitment efforts in 2021.


Click here for more information.

2021 Data Reports

Our 2021 Data Reports will give you access to all the critical data your university will need to support effective strategies in 2021. We have analysed vast amounts of data and developed dynamic data reports to provide you with important industry insights in various areas. 

Click here for more information.

Workshops and Professional Development

We are now offering institutions personalised online presentations to educate and inspire their staff to look to data when assessing current strategies and developing future ones!

Click here for more information.

Contact us to discuss your data needs, to purchase reports or to book in a demo of our various reports!


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