Explanatory notes for data relating to international students studying in Australia

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Where does the international student data come from?

Enrolment data is derived from the Australian Government Provider Registration and International Student Management System (PRISMS) database. PRISMS includes:

  • enrolment data for 5 sectors (Higher Education, Vocational Education and Training (VET), Schools, English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS) and non‑award (includes enabling courses and foundation studies))
  • enrolments by students on a student visa where the enrolment relates to study onshore at an Australian education institution
  • data based on electronic confirmation of enrolments (CoE), and
  • country of origin based on citizenship rather than permanent home residence.

Data is initially uploaded into PRISMS by education providers when an enrolment is offered to a prospective student before a visa is granted. Providers may update this information when a student obtains and uses their visa to enter Australia and starts studying. The Department of Home Affairs updates PRISMS as student visas are granted or cancelled, as students enter or leave Australia, or if students change their visa or residence status. Providers also update PRISMS if students change courses or fail to comply with student visa requirements.

Enrolments versus students

International student enrolment data counts actual enrolments in discrete courses of study within a reference period. This enrolment data does not represent the number of overseas students in Australia, or the number of student visas issued by the Australian Government.

Student numbers represent an estimated count of individuals that have studied on a student visa within a reference period (see Definitions of Data Fields below). Individual students can be enrolled in more than one course of study at the same time, particularly when pursuing study pathways between sectors, and consequently be represented in PRISMS several times.

How are enrolments counted?

A student attending two different courses in the same reference period (for example an ELICOS course and a bachelor degree) will have both enrolments counted. Only enrolments that represent students who have received a visa and have started studying in Australia* are counted in international student enrolment data. Students will be counted as enrolled in Australia even if they have left Australia temporarily, for example during the study period or the end of year break.

Enrolment totals within a reference period combine continuing enrolments with newly commenced enrolments, and account for any completions that have occurred.

Enrolments by students who do not complete or withdraw late are included in the enrolment count (reflecting the actual period of enrolment). Any period of study identified as persisting for less than 10 per cent of the expected course duration is excluded.

* It is worth noting that travel restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic prevented many international students from entering Australia in 2020 and 2021. In any other year on record, all enrolled students studying under arrangements enabled by the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000, were in Australia.

What is a commencement?

A commencement is an enrolment that commenced at any time within the year it appears in. For example, a higher education commencement that began in March will continue being reported as a commencement up until December of that same year, but should it continue into the next year, it will only be reported as an enrolment in that next year.

How is sector allocated?

Enrolments are allocated to sectors based on their course level within the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF). Courses not covered by the AQF are allocated to 'Non-award', noting that all courses identified as 'English language' field of study are allocated to the ELICOS sector irrespective of the AQF level of course.

What types of international students does the international student enrolment data include?

International student enrolment data covers onshore international students studying on student visas only (visa subclasses 500 and from 570 to 575). It does not include overseas students on Australian funded scholarships, or sponsorships (including students who are sponsored by the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Department of Defence), or students undertaking study while holding a tourist or other temporary entry visas (or their dependants). New Zealand students are not included in this data as they do not require a student visa to study in Australia.

Data snapshots and reference periods

International student data is published in monthly year-to-date (YTD) and annual calendar year formats based on monthly snapshots of Provider Registration and International Student Management System (PRISMS). Monthly snapshots are taken on the first day of the month. Snapshots are used to avoid slight variations in data across different extract dates as PRISMS is a live system and is constantly updated.

Monthly YTD data for the current reporting year is available in the monthly summary (PDF) and the monthly YTD data tables (xlsx).

Full year data tables and reports are based on the latest December YTD data snapshot and remain unchanged until the next December snapshot is taken. This ensures the reporting of complete year data is based on a stable set of figures.

Definitions of data fields

The following data fields are available in the monthly YTD and full year international student data.

YTD enrolments

The running total of international student enrolments for the calendar year, for example, YTD enrolments to September 2021, is the total of the enrolments for each month from January 2021 to September 2021.

This running total of enrolments accounts for commencements and completions within the reference period.

YTD commencements

The running total of international student commencements for the calendar year, for example YTD Commencements to March 2022 is the total of the commencements for each month from January 2022 to March 2022.

Student numbers

Student numbers represent an estimated count of individuals that have studied on a student visa within a reference period.

PRISMS has been structured to capture enrolment and commencement information. Individual students are derived from PRISMS by matching records to identify multiple CoEs that belong to the same student based on personal details, passport numbers and visa numbers.

New Student

  • In any year, an enrolment categorised as Yes against the New Student variable commenced within that year AND the student who generated that enrolment had not been enrolled in any previous year in the PRISMS database (established in 2002).
  • The New Student variable is reported in all years from 2005 onwards. From 2005 onwards, all enrolments and commencements are flagged as either Yes or No with respect to the New Student variable (i.e. there are no unknowns).
  • In any year, all New Student enrolments are also New Student commencements. However, not all commencements will be New Student commencements. Any commencements that are not New Student commencements will have been generated by students who had been enrolled in a previous year of the PRISMS database.
  • A new student can only generate New Student enrolments/commencements in their first year and within that first year, that new student may generate more than one New Student enrolment/commencement. For example, an ELICOS enrolment/commencement made by a New Student in 2022 will be categorised as New Student. If that same student then enrols in a higher education course in 2022 that will also be categorised as New Student.
  • A New Student enrolment/commencement that continues into subsequent years will not continue to be recorded as a New Student enrolment in those subsequent years. For example, a higher education enrolment reported as New Student in 2022 that carries over into 2023 will not be reported as a New Student enrolment in 2023 - its status will change as of midnight 31 December 2022.

Additional information

For further information please contact IEResearch@education.gov.au.