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For decades, India has provided Australian institutions with a steady stream of academically qualified and engaging students. In the year preceding the pandemic, over 140,000 students from India were enrolled across Australian institutions, the majority of whom were concentrated within higher education. Furthermore, the Indian student market at that time was valued at $6.6 billion to the Australian economy, including tuition fees, accommodation and spending in the local economy. In fact, India remains an important established market, with over 160,000 Indian students enrolled in Australia as of 2023. Such is the importance of Indian students to the Australian economy and international education sector, that the sudden dip in demand by Indian students looking to study in Australia between 2009 and 2011 led to a $1.3 billion loss in tuition for Australian universities. This dip was caused by a variety of factors, including international student safety and wellbeing, which led to fundamental reforms by the government to improve the student experience and increase oversight of the international education industry. 

Source: AEI 

Recent data shows another downward trend may be occurring, this time impacting other destination markets. According to IDP’s IQ insights and data, overall global demand for outbound study abroad by Indian students has noticeably dropped, with Canada seeing a significant decrease in demand. This is despite Canada traditionally being the most popular destination of choice for Indian students. Conversely, these demand figures have been favourable for Australia, which has become a more preferred destination for Indian students. 

Source: IQ

With government policy changes impacting student visa application charges, financial requirements, English requirements and post study work opportunities, uncertainty is rampant for many stakeholders across the education sector. Furthermore, spiralling living pressures, an increased focus on graduate employment opportunities and students looking for a quantifiable return on investment are further complicating the environment. To that end, institutions must seize the opportunity and pro-actively strengthen and focus their marketing efforts on the Indian source market. While quantitative data is useful, qualitative data provides a level of insight that is invaluable for institutions. In this article, we will explore a recent focus group conducted by IDP, the findings of which can be utilised by institutions looking to improve their attractiveness for Indian students.

Focus Group Research

As a thought leader in the international education sector, IDP has undertaken several extensive research projects including the latest iteration of Emerging Futures: Voice of the International Student, released in April 2024. To further refine its focus on key source markets, IDP also conducted a series of Zoom calls in March 2023 with two groups of students from India. The first group consisted of prospective students looking to study an undergraduate degree overseas, whilst the second group consisted of current students, recent graduates, and professionals looking to pursue a postgraduate degree overseas. Each hour-long group interview was guided with the objective of understanding the key motivating factors for Indian international students, as well as the reasons behind their choice of degree or institution, and how they conduct their initial research. 


The students we spoke to generally seemed quite optimistic about pursuing overseas study, with one interviewee saying studying abroad was their “childhood dream”. When asked to elaborate, students said they believed overseas education would afford them a better quality of life, broaden their scope of education, and increase their likelihood of getting a job in their chosen destination market.  

Despite this optimism, participants said they still undertook substantial research prior to choosing their destination and institution. Interviewees were also very price-conscious, being particularly cognisant of fees, scholarship availability, and living expenses. For this reason, students placed considerable emphasis on institutions which offered financial services, whether that be in the form of scholarships or fee waiving.   

Location was also an important influencing factor, not just for work opportunities but also for proximity to shops, public transport, and accommodation. 

However, work experience and post-study employment in their chosen field seemed to be a key priority for interviewees, particularly for those undertaking postgraduate studies. Unsurprisingly, students preferred to invest time in modules which would help them to advance their careers. As a result, institutions which offered internships or work experience, or which had industry partners were prioritised. 

“In India I won't get the exposure that I need to make it in my career,” said one interviewee. “The partnerships that are provided by the universities abroad are just mind-blowing because they offer opportunities to us at such a young age.” 

In fact, of those prospective students who partook in the focus group, many held overseas education in such high regard that their views on pursuing education in India diminished as a result. The primary reasons for this included research opportunities, career development, work experience, and the prestige associated with obtaining an internationally recognised degree. One student remarked that Indian degrees didn’t “hold that much position”, whereas international degrees would help them to “get a better job in the future”.  

Student Concerns and Recommendations

While it may seem that prospective Indian students are ready and raring to participate in international education, they still hold many concerns and questions about their journey. Many were particularly concerned with what their career opportunities would look like after graduation, and if changes to post-study work rights would impact their career aspirations. 

Based on the responses from our focus group, there are actions that institutions can take to attract more students from this key market. For starters, continuously communicating to prospective and current students the career-related benefits of obtaining their degree at your institution is pivotal. This communication must be consistent throughout the student’s journey. 

This engagement can be achieved via social media, which interviewees said was a key platform for researching institutions and destinations. This was evident in the latest Emerging Futures research report which found Indian students largely use YouTube to follow the news and politics from their chosen destination country. Similarly, promotion on university websites, seminars, workshops, and field trips would help to strengthen promotion and communication to the desired cohort. 

Source: Emerging Futures 5: Voice of the International Student 

Approaching India-based universities for assistance in promotion is another effective strategy, as is maintaining engagement with counsellors. According to the interviewees, online research can sometimes be confusing given the massive amount of available information, much of which can be conflicting. This is why students largely agreed on the importance of counsellor insight during their research. While engagement with counsellors is important, direct engagement with the students themselves should still be a priority. 


Whilst India will remain a top source market for talented students for decades to come, it remains uncertain how visa policy changes and government enrolment directives will impact Indian student demand for Australia over the coming 12 to 24 months. Regardless, it remains important for institutions to receive direct and up-to-date insights from this cohort as they can assist in strengthening promotion and recruitments efforts, whilst navigating the uncertainties ahead. Maintaining active engagement with prospective students and parents, regarding fees, scholarships and cost of living is vital, as well as updated information, and timely support and training for IDP counsellors remains important.

This is also the case for maintaining communication and strong support with current students and recent graduates, particularly regarding key concerns such as career guidance, work experience, and post-study career opportunities. 

For the latest data on student concerns and motivations, last month IDP released its Emerging Futures: Voice of the International Student research report, which collates the views of more than 11,500 prospective, applied, and current international students from 117 countries. To view the infographic, click the link below.


Discover the latest Emerging Futures 5 granular analysis

Vincent Dwyer
Vincent Dwyer16 May 2024