International education

International education

Local economic impact

  • Contributes $1.6 billion to the economy
  • Generates over $5.8 billion in NSW exports
  • 1 in 16 residents are international students

Making a big impact

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.

International education is an important employer and distributes its export earnings widely. The sector supports 120,000 full-time equivalents in NSW, of these over 50,000 are in our local area.

Currently, over 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.

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

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 the City of Sydney local 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.

Our focus

The sector is a key component of our local economy – its high quality and reputation, and its potential for growth both 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 the international links to our global city.

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

We're keen to make sure that this important contribution to our city is recognised and nurtured. The City supports the sector and your business, through the following programs and initiatives:

Sydney Airport Welcome Desk – a sector wide consortium managed by StudyNSW and is open 7 days a week during peak arrival times of February, March and July. It is trialing opening in May to accommodate the new trimester system adopted by some universities. It is also open every weekend throughout the year for 2 shifts a day. The welcome desk offers work-integrated-learning opportunities for both domestic and international students including training and leadership roles.

Lord Mayor’s Welcome – an annual event at Sydney Town Hall where the Lord Mayor welcomes about 1000 international students to Sydney. It assists with orientation with support services on hand at the event including the NSW police, NSW Playsafe, ACON, Fire and Rescue, Redfern Legal Centre, City libraries and cycling

International Education Forum – since its inception 6 years ago this annual forum provides thought leadership to the sector. It promotes excellence and best practice for practitioners directly involved in education, such as education providers especially smaller ones and also to support services including education agents and accommodation providers.

NSW International Student Legal Service at Redfern Legal Centre – offers free, confidential legal advice to international students living in NSW. The City provides an accommodation grant to Redfern Legal Centre.

International Student Business Charter – the City is a signatory to the StudyNSW charter which promotes best practice in employing international students and recognising their crucial contributions to our community.

My Legal Mate – a ground-breaking app which provides over 3,000 pieces of legal advice to students in community languages. The 4 most common problems they experience during their stay are covered: accommodation disputes, education provider disputes, employment issues and sexual assault.

The Group of Eight, a coalition of leading Australian universities, also encourages recognising the importance of the international education sector. Read more below under links.


Group of Eight: The importance of international education for Australia NSW Trade & Investment: StudyNSW Sydney Business Chamber

Last updated: Thursday, 9 April 2020