The upshot: the Brits want to get back in the game.
Some context is important.
Only last August, the UK-based Centre for Higher Education noted Australia was about to leapfrog the UK to become the second most popular destination worldwide for international students.
For many years, the US and the UK had a seemingly unassailable lead – but Australia’s clear-eyed strategy in this important sector has seen us narrow the gap.
And none of this has happened by accident. Six decades of careful strategic work by our universities, with strong bipartisan backing, has taken international education to the next level.
We now educate almost half a million international students from 190 nations at our nation’s world-class universities.
And this delivers powerful benefits to our nation and its relationships in the world.
We know that when international students choose to study in Australia during their formative years, and are warmly welcomed into our communities, they join a global network of alumni with knowledge and affection for our country.
When locals study alongside peers from Singapore, Shanghai and South Africa, it deepens their understanding of how other countries and cultures see the issues they are studying.
The visiting students kindle important friendships while they are here – and maintain those connections when they return home.
Those lifelong ties enrich the cultural life of our communities. They also open doors for Australia and Australians in the future.
These brilliant international students can take their pick of countries to study in.
They choose Australia because of the quality of our education – and our lifestyle.
Our global students also make a major economic contribution.
International students bring $34.9 billion a year into Australia’s economy – supporting more than 241,000 local jobs.
The sector is our third largest export behind iron ore and coal, and our largest services export. It accounts for 8 per cent of our export income, and worth almost double the money earnt from travel and tourism.
And recent polling tells us an overwhelming majority of Australians grasp how valuable international education is to our prosperity.
Research by JWS, released by Universities Australia last week, shows four in five Australians think international students are important to Australia’s economy.
This strong public support rises again – to 85 per cent – when Australians learn exactly how much income the sector brings into the economy each year.
The Australian public absolutely get it: they know international students enrich our local communities, society, global outlook and economy.
The income international students bring to Australia supports jobs, wages and living standards right across the country.
That includes academics and professional staff, bus drivers getting students to university, and construction workers building accommodation and classrooms.
Australians see this economic boost and they back it. They know international education makes a big difference to many Australian lives.
But the contribution is not just about economics.
When international students go home – as 86 per cent do when they finish their degrees – they go on to become leaders in government, business and the community, international ambassadors for our nation and invaluable contacts for Australian students.
And those who do stay in Australia, after meeting strict Government conditions, are exactly the highly educated and highly skilled workers needed to power our national economy and prosperity.
International education creates a better Australia for all Australians – and a world of global opportunity.
Our universities have helped to foster prosperity and security in our region and the world.
For six decades, Australia’s universities have educated hundreds of thousands of people from our region and helped inspire innovation across the Indo-Pacific through major research partnerships.
Our international education sector is the envy of the world. And rightly so.
Everyday Australians have a clear sense of its value.
Catriona Jackson is Chief Executive of Universities Australia.
This article was first published in The Australian on Wednesday 27 March 2019.