Insights Blog

Overseas students help boost Australian universities research profile

Overseas students help boost Australian universities research profile

30 November 2011, by Professor Emeritus Frank Larkins

Frank Larkins is Professor Emeritus in the School of Chemistry at the University of Melbourne. He is a former Deputy Vice Chancellor at that university, Dean of Science and Dean of Land and Food Resources. He has published more than 200 scientific papers. His current interests are in research, education and energy policy developments. He has recently published a book entitled Australian Higher Education Research Policies and Performance 1987-2010 (MUP 2011).


[Read as pdf]


Research students are the cornerstone of research activities in many universities. Some 60 to 70 percent of all university research outputs are linked to contributions by students. The trends in Masters by Research and Doctorate by Research enrolments for domestic and overseas students are profiled in this article along with completion data. The main quantitative data used for the period 2000 to 2010 are sourced from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) website (1). The data that has been used are presented in Appendix 1. The student enrolment data used in this work are reported as person numbers and as Effective Full Time Student Load (EFTSL) equivalent to take account of part time candidature. In earlier articles, published by the L H Martin Institute, trends in Australia’s Higher Education Expenditure on Research and Experimental Development, the sources of funding for university research and the consequences for academic staffing have been considered (2).

Research Student Enrolment Trends

The total enrolment numbers for Masters and Doctoral students for the period 2000 to 2010 are presented in Appendix 1 and Figure 1. Total Higher Degree Research (HDR) enrolments have increased by 49 per cent during the period to 55,740 students, corresponding to a growth in doctorate enrolments of 68 per cent, but there has been an overall decline of eight per cent in Master student enrolments. These numbers have grown faster than the teaching and research (T&R) and research only (RO) numbers at 38 percent (Appendix 1 and reference 2), but the ratio of HDR students to T&R+RO staff numbers is a healthy 1.2:1.0.

The composition of the HDR student cohort between domestic and overseas students has changed significantly. While domestic Masters student enrolments declined by 15 percent during the period under examination, overseas Masters grew by 64 per cent. At the Doctoral level domestic enrolments grew by 38 per cent, while overseas student enrolments grew by a remarkable 275 per cent.











Figure 1: Enrolment trends in Masters by Research and Doctorate by Research Students numbers from 2000 to 2010.

The percentage change in overseas to domestic student numbers is illustrated in figure 2. In 2010 there was one overseas Masters student for every five domestic students, whereas a decade earlier there was one overseas Masters student for ten domestic students. Similarly, at the doctoral level the ratio has increased from one overseas student to seven domestic students in 2000 to one overseas to 2.5 domestic students in 2010. These figures underline how much the HDR profile in Australian universities has change in the past decade. The contribution of Australian universities to Australia’s research effort is now very dependent of overseas students with about one in every six Masters students and one in every 3.5 doctorate students coming from overseas.











Figure 2: Percentage of Overseas students enrolled in Masters by Research and Doctorate by Research compared to Domestic student enrolments (by numbers).

If one considers the trends on an EFTSL basis then it is evident from the data presented in figure 3 that Australian university research is even more dependent on the contribution from overseas students. The fact that the EFTSL-based percentages for overseas students shown in figure 3 are higher than the corresponding number-based percentages in figure 2 indicates that proportionally more of the domestic students are enrolled on a part-time basis. One in five EFTSL Masters and one in three EFTSL doctoral students are from overseas.










Figure 3: Percentage of Overseas students enrolled in Masters by Research and Doctorate by Research compared to Domestic student enrolments (by EFTSL).

Higher Degree Research Completions

The number of overseas students completing in each of the years as a percentage of the total completions for Masters, doctorates and overall is shown in figure 4. The proportion is very similar for both the Masters and the doctorate degrees indicating a consistent outcome performance between the two research degrees for all years. Relative to domestic completions the number of overseas students successfully completing has increased each year. Given the time delays between enrolments and completions further increases in the proportion of overseas HDR graduates in the future are to be expected. This will be especially so at the doctoral level. The contributing factors are the increased overseas enrolments and because a higher proportion of the overseas students are full time researchers compared with domestic students. There is insufficient data available to draw any conclusions about completion rates.








Figure 4: Percentage of overseas student completions by degree and total higher degree research numbers.

For domestic and overseas students, Masters completions are a declining proportion of all the completions having almost halved in the period under examination. These data are presented in figure 5. There is a consistent pattern for the completion performance of both domestic and overseas students.









Figure 5: Percentage completions of Masters to Doctorate students for domestic, overseas, and total enrollees.

Trends consequences for universities

Overseas students now make a greater contribution to the research output of Australian universities than a decade earlier. There has been a trend towards a higher proportion of HDR enrolees coming from overseas and for more domestic HDR students to enrol part time compared with their overseas counterparts. Overseas students continue to contribute an ever higher proportion of HDR completions. When European countries and the USA overcome their current financial difficulties they will again increase their R&D investments. Australia’s research effort will be at risk if more overseas students that may have come to Australia are recruited by other countries. It is in the national interest to develop policy incentives to recruit and retain overseas research students and also to attract more domestic students to priority HDR programs.



1. Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relation,

2. Frank Larkins, L H Martin Institute articles, 2011,


Masters and Doctorate by Research Student Enrolments and Completions 2000–2010 (two-year intervals)

Bookmark and Share


January 17th, 2012 at 6:39pm
custom writings
Excellent post! I think you've encapsulated the mission of this blog and our challenge.
About Insights

Insights is a regular feature of the LH Martin Institute e-Newsletter, presenting opinion pieces from tertiary education's leaders and experts. Subscribe to the e-newsletter.

* The views and comments expressed in 'Insights' belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of LH Martin Institute.

All Articles
Paul Abela (1)
Muneer Ahmed (3)
Prof Warwick Anderson (1)
Professor Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud (1)
Liz Bare (2)
Liz Baré & Dr Emmaline Bexley (1)
James Barron (1)
Fabiana Barros de Barros (2)
Damian Barry (1)
Janet Beard (1)
Prof Warren Bebbington (1)
Prof Sharon Bell (1)
Doron Ben-Meir (1)
Peter Bentley (5)
Anne-Marie Birkill (1)
Prof Sandra Bohlinger (1)
Tom Boland (1)
Prof. Victor (Vic) Borden (1)
Prof Tim Brailsford (1)
Prof. Gerald Burke (1)
Professor Linda Butler (1)
Angel Calderon (1)
Angel Calderon and Karen L. Weber (1)
Dr Jan Cameron (1)
Emeritus Prof Richard Carter (1)
Dr Margaret-Anne Carter and Natalia Veles (1)
Pam Caven (1)
Rosalind Chan (1)
Pam Christie (1)
Maree Conway (1)
Prof Roy Crawford (2)
Suzanne Crew (1)
Prof Stephen Crump & Linda Cooper (1)
Jim Davidson (2)
Dr Heather Davis (5)
H. Davis, S. Jones, R. Bolden and P. Gentle (1)
Prof Glyn Davis (1)
Associate Prof. Stijn Dekeyser (1)
Anne Dening (1)
Prof John Dewar (1)
Martin Doel OBE (1)
Bianca Durrant (1)
Mari Elken (1)
Lorelle Espinosa (1)
Dr Peter Ewell (1)
Professor Mike Ewing (1)
Penny Fenwick & Dr Jan Cameron (1)
Neil Fernandes (1)
Claire Field (1)
Jon File (3)
Dr Scott Flower (1)
Pat Forward (1)
Dr Nick Fredman (3)
Rafael Arruda Furtado & Tatiana deCampos Aranovich (1)
Michael Gallagher (1)
Prof. Leo Goedegebuure (4)
Prof. Leo Goedegebuure & Prof. Lynn Meek (1)
Prof. Leo Goedegebuure & A/Prof. Ruth Schubert (1)
Valentina Goglio (1)
Ian Gostelow (1)
Carroll Graham (1)
Stephen Gray (1)
Andrew Gunn (1)
Andrew Gunn and Michael Mintrom (1)
Carol Harding (1)
Assoc Prof Damien Harkin (2)
Prof Elizabeth Harman (1)
Tony Heywood (1)
Professor Jeroen Huisman (2)
K. Johnson, D. Warr, K. Hegarty and M. Guillemin (1)
Professor Anne Jones (1)
Dr Steven Jones (1)
Tom Karmel (2)
Sharon Kerr (2)
Prof Denise Kirkpatrick (1)
Prof Linda Kristjanson (1)
Eunyoung Kyung (1)
Professor Emeritus Frank Larkins (22)
Prof. Frank Larkins & Assoc. Prof. Ian Marshman (5)
Jack Latimore (1)
Alan Lawler (1)
Mary Leahy (1)
LH Martin Institute (2)
Qingcheng Li (1)
Megan Lilly (1)
Prof David G Lloyd (1)
Bruce Mackenzie (1)
Hon. Steve Maharey (1)
Marian Mahat (6)
Prof. Vin Massaro (1)
Derek McCormack (1)
Prof. Stuart McCutcheon (1)
Prof V. Lynn Meek (1)
Darren Menachemson (1)
Prof Robin Middlehurst (1)
Gavin Moodie (2)
Bruce Muirhead (2)
Dennis Murray (2)
Huong Nguyen (1)
Arwin Nimis (1)
Peter Noonan (1)
Andrew Norton (1)
Faisal Notta & Dr Tashmin Khamis (1)
Ms Ĺsa Olsson (2)
Ms Jan Owen AM (1)
Prof Gareth Parry (2)
Lea Patterson (1)
Prof Alan Pettigrew (3)
Barbara Pocock (1)
Dr Stefan Popenici (1)
Emily Porrello (1)
Professor Richie Poulton (1)
Dr Joanne Pyke (2)
Dr Sarah Richardson and Assoc. Prof. Hamish Coates (1)
Martin Riordan (1)
Prof. Jo Ritzen (1)
Mark Robinson (1)
Julie Rowlands (1)
Professor Yoni Ryan (1)
Paula Sanderson (1)
Dr Ruth Schubert (4)
Kevin Seales (1)
Jeffrey Selingo (1)
Dr Geoff Sharrock (6)
Robin Shreeve (1)
Denise Stevens (1)
Jan Stevenson (1)
Associate Professor Elaine Stratford (2)
Prof. Andrew J. Szeri (1)
Mark Tayar & Rob Jack (1)
Dr Ly Tran (1)
Frances Valintine (1)
Prof Andrew Vann (1)
Prof Frans van Vught (1)
Professor Robert Wagenaar (1)
Prof Pat Walsh (2)
Mark Warburton (4)
Dr Stephen Weller (2)
Professor Paul Wellings (1)
Dr Julie Wells (1)
Lakshmi West (1)
Jennifer Westacott (1)
Assoc Prof Leesa Wheelahan (6)
David Windridge (1)
Dr Peter Woelert (1)
Dr Peter Woelert and Dr Victoria Millar (1)
Haydn Wright (1)
Prof. Omar Yaakob (1)
Serena Yu (1)
Dr Nadine Zacharias (1)
Janis Bailey, Carolyn Troup and Glenda Strachan (1)
Mr Darryl Carpenter (1)
Ed Bernacki (1)
Prof Sandra Jones (1)
Penelope Thomas (1)
October (2)
September (1)
August (1)
July (2)
June (5)
May (2)
April (2)
March (2)
February (2)
December (1)
November (2)
October (1)
September (3)
August (1)
July (4)
June (4)
April (1)
March (3)
February (2)
December (1)
November (1)
October (3)
September (2)
August (3)
July (3)
May (1)
April (2)
March (2)
February (1)
November (3)
October (2)
September (4)
August (4)
July (6)
June (4)
May (3)
April (5)
March (4)
February (4)
January (3)
November (4)
October (4)
September (4)
August (8)
July (5)
June (6)
May (5)
April (4)
March (4)
February (5)
January (2)
November (3)
October (3)
September (6)
August (5)
July (2)
June (2)
May (2)
April (3)
March (5)
February (4)
January (2)
November (4)
October (4)
September (6)
August (3)
July (3)
June (3)
May (4)
April (1)
March (2)
February (1)
January (2)
November (2)
October (2)
September (4)
August (3)
July (2)
June (2)