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Pandemic impact boosts SA uni enrolments

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A shrinking job market and overseas travel restrictions have prompted more South Australians to consider tertiary education, despite ongoing concerns about the loss of international students from the state’s pandemic-hit universities.

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Flinders University data provided to InDaily shows undergraduate offers rose by just over 23 per cent for semester two this year compared to the same time last year, while postgraduate offers were up by 35 per cent on 2019 figures.

The growth was spread across all courses, with health-related degrees showing the biggest spike in demand as the industry continues to grapple with the COVID-19 global pandemic. 

All up, 2546 offers were made, with the university anticipating that the increased domestic student demand will continue into 2021.

“There’s been an overall increase in interest in higher education in South Australia in recent months,” Flinders University deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Clare Pollock said.

“That demand is growing comes as no surprise.

“Due to COVID-19, school leavers are more carefully considering their options as the prospect of gap year travel is limited and the job market is very tight.

“Those in the job market are also facing uncertainty and seeking to strengthen their employability through up-skilling.”

 Across-town rival Adelaide University also reported better than expected results, with domestic student enrolments for semester 2 up by four per cent – 14,476 undergraduate and postgraduate students – on last year’s figures.

International student enrolments also rose by five per cent – 6903 students –with the vast majority of those enrolled completing their studies remotely.

But the number of international students commencing studies in semester two this year dropped by 26 per cent on 2019 figures, with only 543 new students starting in the second half of this year compared to the same time last year, prompting a seven per cent drop in revenue.

“Better than expected offshore enrolments have been the main contributing factor to the improved 2020 position,” a university spokesperson told InDaily last month.

“However, the declining number of international students commencing in semester two 2020 points to the long-term impacts of COVID-19 and the financial challenges ahead.

“The University is expecting this to impact on the pipeline of commencing international students for 2021, and again in 2022, which will have further impacts on the University’s revenue for each of those years.”

The results prompted the university’s acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Mike Brooks in September to call off or defer several cost-cutting measures proposed earlier in the year and agreed to by the majority of staff in August. 

InDaily contacted the University of South Australia in July asking for its enrolment data but is yet to receive a response.

Nationally, university enrolments have grown by one percent this year compared to last year, but the number of new students commencing studies has declined by 14 per cent.

The Department for Education, Skills and Employment anticipates that some international students may continue to enrol and study from offshore but the impact of COVID-19 will be drawn out over the longer term.

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