Has the other great Chinese investment boom peaked?

Forget property, Australia's economy relies heavily on Chinese investing in themselves. But are we pricing ourselves out of the market?

China’s huge outflow of students has hit the brakes, according to the latest figures from the Chinese Ministry of Education.

While the 413,900 Chinese people studying abroad in 2013 represents a 3.5 per cent increase on 2012, it’s a huge dropoff from the 20 per cent increase per year seen over the past five years, according to Fairfax.

The collapse in Chinese student growth around the world will undoubtedly hit the popular education destinations like the USA, Britain and Canada, but Australia, which is the fifth most popular destination for the world’s international students, is faring surprisingly well.

Graph for Has the other great Chinese investment boom peaked?

Source: Austrade

In fact, while the growth of Chinese international students is slowing, Australia has just registered its first increase in Chinese student enrolments since 2010. Even if it only rose by 539 students from 2012 to 2013, that still represents $20.7 million in extra cash coming into the economy.

More Chinese students enrol to come to Australia each year than Indian, South Korean, Thai and Vietnamese students combined.

And education is the quiet champion of Australian exports, coming in fourth place as per the chart below, just behind gold.

Graph for Has the other great Chinese investment boom peaked?

Source: Minerals Council of Australia

The total number of international students last year was 526,932 (across all types and levels of education), making Australia the fifth most popular destination in the world. Here’s how other countries are faring:

Graph for Has the other great Chinese investment boom peaked?

We don’t skimp when it comes to a degree either. Australia is the most expensive destination in the world for international study, according to a HSBC report. It costs the average international student more to study in Australia than the USA, UK, the United Arab Emirates or Canada.

Universities make the most out of international students because, while Australian and New Zealand citizens are eligible for government assistance, foreign students pay the full fee -- for almost all the courses it’s a small fortune, as this chart shows.

Graph for Has the other great Chinese investment boom peaked?

An international student who wants to study at the University of Melbourne or University of Sydney will be lucky to get out for less than $100,000. And if that student wants to study a bachelor of medicine and surgery at the University of Sydney he or she will have to shell out a staggering $250,520 for the four years.

While those two universities may be particularly pricey the cost is substantial across the board.

The cost of housing, which helped make Australia the world’s most expensive study destination in 2013, averaged $US13,140. And the average spent on fees was $US25,375, meaning that each international student spent an average of $US38,512 per year, according to the HSBC study. That’s $US2811 more than the USA, $US8191 more than the UK and $US12,505 more than Canada.

By comparison, here’s how much it costs international students to study in other countries.

Graph for Has the other great Chinese investment boom peaked?

Of course, students are coming for more than just university, the below chart shows the breakdown since 1994.

Graph for Has the other great Chinese investment boom peaked?

International students are the overlooked cash cow of the Australian economy. Supply has been rising to meet demand for decades but it’s now clear that Australia is better placed than the rest to continue to make the most of global students, particularly the Chinese, than its competing countries. If the slowdown in international Chinese students numbers continues then Australia will have to look for new ways to satisfy this enormous market.

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