International education

An important employer that distributes its export earnings widely.

Why it’s important to us

The international education sector contributed more than $5.87 billion to the local economy in 2018. It is the third largest export sector for Australia, generating over $34 billion in exports in 2018, surpassed only by coal, iron ore and natural gas.

The sector supports 120,000 full-time equivalents in NSW, of these over 50,000 are in our local area.

More than 336,000 international students study in NSW, of these over half choose to study in our local area. Around 25,000 international students also live locally. Enrolments have grown nationally by 11% year-on-year for the past 5 years, however, the average rate is 13% year-on-year for NSW. Importantly, international students make a significant contribution to the local economy, spending on a range of goods and services to support their study and living needs.

About 40% of all education providers in NSW are located in our local area. This includes universities, vocational and educational training providers and English language intensive courses for overseas students – that’s over 550 education establishments.

NSW is home to the most international students in Australia, and attracted about 38% of all enrolments in 2018.

How we can achieve our goals

Business opportunities

An important part of the sector is the wide variety of local businesses that provide services and potential employment to students from abroad, for example:

  • accommodation providers hosting international students
  • employers hiring students, during or at the end of their studies
  • tourism businesses catering to students and their visiting families.

Even students who study or live outside the city make an important contribution. They are likely to spend time in Sydney enjoying our world-class attractions, shopping, restaurants and bars when they first arrive, or during their leisure time. Overseas students not only enjoy tourist attractions during their study, but studies suggest 20% to 40% travel to Australia as tourists before enrolling and 50% return within 5 years of graduation.

Similarly, the contribution of visiting friends and relatives was until recently unnoticed. In 2018, it was estimated 85,000 visiting friends and relatives spent 1.32 million nights visiting students who live in our local area contributing over $200 million. Additionally, 56,000 visiting friends and relatives of students studying or living outside our local area spent 1 million nights in our local area contributing approximately $150 million.

Enrolment patterns

More than 550 educational establishments in our area cater to international students, which can be divided into 4 major categories:

  • Universities
  • Schools
  • Vocational education and training providers
  • English language intensive courses for overseas students providers.

Across NSW universities make up the largest component of international students at about 46%, with most students studying at publicly funded institutions. The majority of private enrolments are at vocational and educational training and English language intensive courses for overseas students providers. There is roughly an even distribution of students between public and private enrolments at schools.

Projects and initiatives

The sector is a key component of our local economy – its high quality and reputation, and potential for growth in economic contribution and job creation makes it a priority now and into the future.

International students contribute to the vibrancy and liveability of Sydney, which enhances our cultural diversity and strengthens international links to our global city.

We welcome international students as part of Sydney's global talent hub. You can find out more in our international education action plan.

It's important this contribution to our city is recognised and nurtured. We support the sector and your business, and work with a large range of organisations including the Sydney Airport Welcome Desk, Lord Mayor’s Welcome, the international education forum, NSW international student legal service at Redfern Legal Centre, international student business charter, My Legal Mate, and The Group of Eight.

International Education Action Plan

International education enhances Sydney’s reputation globally as a centre for learning, research and innovation.
Published 28 August 2018

Programs and support