Unlocking new opportunities through international education data

In every segment of our economy, data is delivering change. New technology platforms and AI-enabled tools allow us to capture, store, analyse and interpret data like never before – providing valuable insights that drive better business decisions.

According to a report we developed in partnership with Nous Group earlier this year, there are areas where Australia’s enviable international education and training data could be boosted. These include addressing issues such as time lags, multiple locations and sources, and irreconcilable differences between data sets. Our report identifies opportunities for improvement in data collection, integration, reporting and availability.

Given the significance of the international education sector, which is worth $32 billion a year to the Australian economy, it’s important we get this right. In August 2019 Australia overtook the UK as the world’s second biggest destination for international students.

Since our report was released, we’ve spoken to ministers within the education and immigration, citizenship and multiculturalism portfolios, as well as Austrade, and there is certainly support for breaking down and prioritising the work involved to create a more timely, accessible and national source of higher education data. 

According to Rebecca Hall, Senior Industry Specialist at Austrade, “international education exports make a significant contribution to Australia’s economy. This report reveals some important and valuable findings about how we can better harness data to improve our policy making, market insights and organisational decision-making – and build on our current success as a world-leading education destination.”

Why do we need better international education and training data?

Just as we’ve seen with broader reforms on data openness in Australia, international education requires access to information to ensure:

  • public policy effectiveness, by informing debate and decision-making
  • market efficiency, ensuring all parties have access to broader data to inform their activities so they can allocate resources
  • operational efficiency, enabling informed decisions at an individual organisation level.

We critically examined the current state of data availability against a set of seven principles for successful data collection and dissemination, including completeness, timeliness and sensitivity to privacy.

How does Australia’s international education and training data measure up?

Currently, international education and training data exists in multiple and disparate datasets and locations, with varying degrees of access. Having analysed each stage of the student journey, with a focus on enrolments, we found this creates limitations, including:

  • timing and accessibility issues for key data sources
  • difficulties in identifying location of study and regions within source countries
  • limitations to data on visa application lodgments and grants
  • unreconciled differences and inconsistencies across key data sources
  • limited data on enrolment channels captured in key sources
  • a lack of data on the non-student visa market
  • issues with the ability of data to keep up with future developments in education delivery.

How can we overcome these limitations?

We see opportunities to work together in three key areas:

  1. Expand the scope of data collected
  2. Improve data accessibility
  3. Ensure greater consistency in collection and dissemination.

In terms of scope, we need to better understand the value and experience within international education, and track lead indicators such as international student enquiries.

For example, more granular access to visa application and grant data would help providers make informed resource allocations and risk assessments. Collecting and sharing data on post-study behaviour and outcomes will help the sector strengthen its value.

To achieve innovation and improvement, accessibility is key. We need to improve and simplify access to the Department of Education and Training’s Higher Education Information Management System (HEIMS), as well as to data by region within source countries, calling for more comprehensive publicly available data.

The goal should be a consistent, integrated source and dissemination of data across all international education and training sub-sectors. To do this, we will need to address integration issues between key data sets and treat providers consistently across data sources.

Additionally, it’s important to reduce the lag time in key Department of Education and Training dataset production, and provide greater detail on publicly available interactive pivot tables.

All these recommendations will need to be prioritised to improve data governance for users, and may need a whole of government/whole of sector working group, or the formation of an agency with responsibility for broader IET data and analysis.

Making these changes will go some way to helping providers and government address the untapped potential in Australia’s international education and training sector, and maintain Australia’s relative lead as an international student destination.

At Navitas we constantly works with colleagues in the education and training sector to improve our access to timely and accurate data. Producing this report is just one example, and I’d be happy to discuss other opportunities with you.


To learn more about our data assessment, please download the report, Data opportunities in international education and training.

About The Author

David Buckingham took up the role of Navitas Group CEO on 1 March 2018 and the role of Managing Director on 1 July 2018, having joined the company as Chief Financial Officer in January 2016. He has a diverse educational background and impressive career which he began in the United Kingdom with PricewaterhouseCoopers. He later moved into the telecommunications industry to which he devoted much of his career. He has worked for Telewest Global, Virginmedia, and iiNet – where in the latter he took the role of both Chief Financial Officer and Chief Executive Officer.

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