Aug 8, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

More than 800,000 international students in Australia comprised 3.5 percent of the country’s total population, as of earlier this spring. Here’s a closer look at the tremendous impact they have on the Australian economy, as recently reported by The Australian Financial Review (AFR).

Big Numbers = Big Money

Less than 20 years ago, Australia’s international student numbers were less than 200,000. A meteoric rise in interest since the beginning of the century has corresponded with an equally profound rise in the money they inject into the economy -- $30 billion, to be exact. In fact, according to a report from Macquarie Research, education exports accounted for a staggering 10 percent of GDP growth in Australia last year.

Creating Demand

Tuition fees are just the start. For starters, according to experts, the presence of so many international students has “changed the nature of housing demand” and increased labor supply.  Says Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia, “You only have to look at the number of purpose-built accommodation towers in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to see overseas students spend a lot of money apart from tuition fees.”

However, the effect goes far beyond accommodations, penetrating markets ranging from transportation to information and communications technology. “One area that gets overlooked is tourism. Family and friends come to visit. They go on road trips, they use accommodation and public transport,” continues Honeywood.

A New Kind of Student

AFR also points out that the “old idea” of starving students is no longer applicable due to the “consumer-conscious, well-educated individuals coming from Asia.”

As a result, infrastructure must be designed to acknowledge and cater to their expectations.

Explains Honeywood, “They want buildings with theatrettes, games rooms for table tennis and basketball, lounges where you can work in groups, wi-fi, no big shared kitchens, air conditioning and double beds. And if the accommodation is not what they expect, they move on.”

Still, it’s important to note that it’s not just about the money.

“What international students contribute to Australia is greater than dollars and cents -- they forge links between our country and the world, from the very personal to, eventually, broader diplomatic and trade ties," insists Universities Australia chief executive designate Catriona Jackson.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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