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Australia's international student numbers hit new high

Punjabi students celebrating Diwali at the Victoria University, Melbourne. Source: Photo courtesy Hong Seok Che

New statistics released by the Federal Department of Education and Training show there were 554,000 international students in the country in 2016.

The number of international students studying in Australia rose by more than 10 per cent last year to its highest level ever.

More international students than ever before are studying in Australia, easily surpassing half a million across universities, TAFE, English language schools and high schools.

But as the sector booms, some have raised concerns that services and conditions for students are not keeping up. Preetinder Grewal reports…..

The latest figures from the Australian Department of Education and Training show education exports brought in a record $21.8 billion in 2016.

That makes it the third-largest Australian export after iron ore and coal.

The growth stemmed largely from the increasing student numbers, which rose by 10 per cent last year, with most of the growth coming from China and India.

University of Melbourne senior economics lecturer Michael Coelli says he is not surprised the industry is going strong.

Coelli says the government's simplifying of the student-visa process, as well as opportunities for permanent settlement in Australia, are attractive to students in Asia.

But he says the Chinese government's recent investment in its own education system highlights why Australia's industry needs to look at the region more broadly.

The number of international students coming to Australia has been growing steadily since the early 2000s, with the economic benefits flowing on to the broader community.

Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham says in a statement that education is at the forefront of Australia's economic transition away from a mining-based economy.

RMIT University senior lecturer Catherine Gomes, who focuses on international education, says recommendations from previous students are the biggest reason behind the growth.

The latest government report also includes data from a survey of 65,000 international students about their experiences.

The results show almost nine in 10 were satisfied or very satisfied with their overall experience in Australia.

Ms Gomes says it is important that that level of satisfaction is maintained.

She says many students are not aware of their rights under Australian law in the workplace or the housing market.

She says that makes them vulnerable to exploitation and universities need to do more to educate them.