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Canberra: Australia’s Education Capital
An International Education Strategy for Canberra

Canberra: A 21st Century Knowledge Economy

Canberra is a modern, vibrant and diverse city with a strong knowledge economy reflected in the structure of its labour force, in the focus of its businesses, and the scale and capacity of its Government and education sectors. Forty-seven per cent of residents aged 25–34 have a bachelors or higher degree, well above the 32 per cent national average. In addition, at least one in nine Canberrans work or study at an education institution, the highest level of any city in Australia.1

Canberra’s education strengths also contribute to our innovation and entrepreneurship performance. A recent report from the Commonwealth Government’s Chief Economist found that Canberra was Australia’s highest performing jurisdiction on measures of innovation and entrepreneurship including business expenditure on research and development, patent and trade mark applications and business entries.2 When the research carried out at Canberra’s institutions such as Australian National University (ANU), University of New South Wales (UNSW) Canberra, University of Canberra, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Data61 is taken into account, Canberra can rightly claim to be Australia’s education and research capital.

The higher education institutions and the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) also play a pivotal role in city building. Their scale and footprint in our city contribute greatly to urban renewal, infrastructure development, transport reform, cultural development (sports, music and the arts), community services, talent attraction and retention — in fact, more graduates remain in Canberra than were living here prior to their studies.3

Collectively, education and research institutions value add $2.75 billion a year to Canberra’s economy and create 16,000 full-time equivalent jobs,4 representing more than 7 per cent of our economy and labour force.5

International education is also Canberra’s largest export. In 2015 it contributed $451 million or 28 per cent of services exports — up 10 per cent on 2014.6 In fact, the growth in international student numbers is largely responsible for the 9.1 per cent annual growth in services exports over the last five years in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) — the highest growth rate in Australia. In addition, interstate students, attracted to Canberra by the strength of its education institutions, add similar value to Canberra’s economy.

Beyond the aggregates, education institutions and their students are also contributing greatly to the ideas and entrepreneurship boom that is occurring in Canberra.

International students bring diverse perspectives, build cultural awareness and understanding, drive visitation from friends and relatives, develop people to people links, build business, trade and investment links, and after graduation (as alumni) act as advocates, innovators, and exemplars, raising the profile of the cities and institutions in which they studied.

It is mutually beneficial — education is associated with increased earnings (graduate salaries are 65 per cent higher than year 12 only) and lower unemployment.7 Consistent with the highest educational attainment, Canberra has the highest average earnings and lowest unemployment (June 2016) in Australia.8

What Makes Canberra an Attractive Student Destination?

Research indicates factors such as education quality, research excellence (particularly for postgraduate students), the student experience, employment outcomes, course choice, lifestyle, living costs, transportation, community engagement, and reputation (via alumni, family links or through social media) are key enablers driving study and research destination decisions.

Canberra has much to offer aspiring students, researchers and academics.

National Capital

As Australia’s capital, Canberra is at the forefront of Government decision and policy making. This has driven the development of expertise in social, economic and scientific issues ranging from customs, policing and national security, through to natural resource management. Cultural institutions such as the National Library of Australia, National Gallery of Australia and National Museum of Australia are world class. The Australian War Memorial is consistently ranked as one of Australia’s most popular cultural institutions and was recently rated the top Australian landmark on Trip Advisor (2016).

Quality/Research Excellence

Our high calibre institutions, expert teachers, vocational trainers and innovative researchers have developed expertise in key capability areas such as renewable energy, defence and cyber security, ICT/e-Government, health and sports science, space and spatial sciences, and agricultural/environmental sciences, in collaboration with an increasing number of start-ups.


We have the most highly skilled workforce (by education attainment) and the greatest proportion of knowledge workers (with higher degrees or in research pursuits) of any region in Australia — at least one in nine people are engaged with an education institution.


Canberra is big enough to enjoy all of the services of a major city, but small enough to retain a sense of community without the drawbacks. Strong partnerships between the Government, business, our world-class education institutions and the region, and thriving and porous campuses, create opportunities for collaboration, commercialisation, and entrepreneurship.


Canberra is a safe and welcoming city. Around 25 per cent of the population is born overseas,9 and we host more than 100 diplomatic missions10 and their associated communities. The National Multicultural Festival draws 280,000 visitors over three days at the start of the academic year.

Student Experience

Canberra ranks among the top 20 student cities in the world (17th in 2016,11 ahead of San Francisco and New York). The median age of Canberra residents (34) is lower than in any State in Australia12 — as a result, a dynamic, cosmopolitan culture with a diverse array of clubs, societies and activities across all four seasons has developed.


Many institutions offer an accommodation guarantee to international and interstate students in their first or subsequent years, providing security and peace of mind. A pipeline of new developments will uphold this in line with future growth in student numbers.


The OECD has ranked Canberra the most liveable region in the world.13 With extensive parklands and recreation opportunities, our residents are the most active in Australia.14 There is also a lively events calendar, with Floriade drawing around 500,000 visitors increasingly from Asia, and Enlighten featuring artistic projections on the national cultural institutions and night noodle markets.

Graduate outcomes

With the highest average incomes and lowest unemployment (June 2016) in Australia, a higher proportion of Canberra residents are of working age than any State of Australia.15 Cohort surveys have found more than 60 per cent of post graduate, and almost half of undergraduates, work in public or Government organisations, and a high proportion work in professional, technical and scientific services.16

Outward looking

Canberra is an economic, social and services hub for the surrounding region, from pristine beaches to ski fields, with a combined population of more than 650,000.17 Direct international flights to Singapore and New Zealand from September 2016 will open up a step change  in connectivity and accessibility.

International Relationships

The ACT Government has sister city relationships with a number of key overseas cities including Beijing and Shenzhen in China, Nara in Japan, Wellington, and close relations with Singapore, Washington DC, Austin TX, Dili and Hangzhou. These relationships provide a platform to grow engagement with existing and new markets.

Current state of play

Canberra educates around 44,000 higher education students each year, including more than 12,000 international students (almost 30 per cent), and a similar number from other Australian jurisdictions. In 2014, international students were estimated to account for 26 per cent, interstate students 28 per cent and local students 46 per cent of enrolments at the two largest universities.18

The top source countries for onshore international students in Canberra are:

An inforgraphic of the Quantites of Students as described in the table

International Students in Canberra December 2015
China 6,154
India 732
South Korea 603
Vietnam 454
Malaysia 382
Philippines 320
Pakistan 311
New Zealand (estimate)* 285
Bhutan 279
Hong Kong 248
Indonesia 244
Thailand 198
Singapore 190
USA 189
Other nationalities 2,526
Total 12,830

* NZ students are categorised similarly to domestic students.

Of these international enrolments, over two thirds (68 per cent) are enrolled in higher education (ie universities) with around 14 per cent enrolled in English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS), 7 per cent in non award courses, 6.5 per cent in Vocational Education and Training (VET), and 4.6 per cent in school education.

An inforgraphic illustrating the growth of enrollments from 2014-15

International Education enrolments in the ACT
Higher Education 7,628 8,268 8,668
VET 829 877 836
Schools 436 505 584
ELICOS 1,401 1,806 1,781
Non-award 705 872 917
Total 10,999 12,328 12,786

Source: Austrade/AEI, Market Information Package as at Dec 2015. Enrolment data are derived from the Commonwealth Provider Registration and International Student Management System (PRISMS)

Canberra’s Institutions

Higher Education

Canberra is undoubtedly Australia’s higher education capital with five high quality universities — the Australian National University (ANU); University of Canberra (UC); University of New South Wales (UNSW) — Canberra at ADFA; Australian Catholic University (ACU); and Charles Sturt University (CSU).

The presence of a major cluster of high quality education institutions gives Canberra an edge as a world-class destination of learning and major centre for knowledge. In addition, Canberra hosts a number of national research institutions — such as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Data61, Geoscience Australia, the Australian Institute of Sport, several agricultural research bodies and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Out of this concentration of learning and expertise, a number of key capability areas have emerged in: agricultural and environmental sciences, ICT and e-Government services, defence technology, cyber security, space and spatial science, sports technology, health innovation and renewable energy.

Australian National University

ANU is a world-leading university which is proudly positioned in Australia’s capital. It is Australia’s national university and has a unique history as a research university with strong ties to national institutions and the Australian Government. Its focus on research and education ensures ANU graduates are in demand the world over for their abilities to understand, and apply vision and creativity to complex contemporary challenges.

ANU is Australia’s highest ranked university and is ranked 19th in the world (QS World University Rankings 2015–16). It is ranked first in Australia and 25th in the world for its international outlook (Times Higher Education International Outlook Indicator 2015–16). It produces Australia’s most employable graduates (Emerging Global Employability Survey 2015). 95 percent of ANU’s research is rated above or well above world standard (Australian Government Excellence in Research for Australia Report 2015).

ANU counts six Nobel Laureates among its staff and alumni, including its current Vice Chancellor, Professor Brian Schmidt AC.

University of Canberra

UC is a young, up-and-coming university which aims to be recognised as one of Australia’s most innovative tertiary institutions. UC researchers are committed to delivering breakthroughs that help solve real-world problems and collaborate with national and international partners to produce

broad reach research both locally and globally. The University is proud of its academic, professional and personal support systems. Its strong emphasis on work integrated learning gives its more than 16,500 students valuable experience in the workplace before they graduate. UC proudly continues

to reach new heights in world rankings and further its reach regionally, nationally and internationally. UC is ranked in the top 4 per cent of universities in the world by QS World University Rankings and in the top 150 universities in the world under the age of 50 by Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2015–16).

University of New South Wales, Canberra

UNSW Canberra is a multidisciplinary campus and is located at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra. UNSW, a member of the group of eight research-intensive universities in Australia, is consistently ranked among the top 100 universities in the world.

UNSW Canberra is regarded as a premier education provider excelling in teaching and research in a wide range of disciplines from business to humanities and social sciences, engineering, information technology and science. UNSW Canberra has the best student/staff ratio in Australia with excellent facilities for cutting edge research in all its disciplines. The majority of over 350 postgraduate research students at PhD and Masters level are civilian, and they constitute a culturally diverse group, with around 35 different countries of origin. UNSW Canberra graduates shape Australia, the region and the international community as leaders in Defence, Government, and industry.

Australian Catholic University

ACU commenced operation on 1 January 1991 and has seven campuses, located in Adelaide, Ballarat, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, and Sydney (2). The University was formed by the amalgamation of four Catholic institutions of higher education in eastern Australia, and is Australia’s leading Catholic university. It is a public not-for-profit university open to students and staff of all beliefs.

The University offers courses in arts, teaching and education, allied health, science, exercise science, health, nursing and midwifery, psychology and counselling, social work, business, information technology, law, theology, and philosophy.

Charles Sturt University

CSU is a unique multi-campus university, with two campuses in Canberra. From these campuses, CSU offers a range of specialised courses across three faculties: Arts and Education; Business, Justice & Behavioural Sciences; and Science.

Programs delivered span several areas including law enforcement and security through the Australian Graduate School of Policing and Security, border management through the Centre for Customs and Excise Studies, and theology through the School of Theology.  CSU Canberra is also home to the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics with one of the world’s largest concentrations of applied philosophers.

Vocational Education and Training (VET)

Canberra Institute of Technology

CIT is Canberra’s longest serving and largest provider of vocational education and training and enjoys the trust and respect of the community — locally, nationally and internationally. CIT is a major contributor to the ACT region’s high quality workforce across all major industry sectors, strengthening the region’s economic outcomes. The success of CIT is best reflected in the 2015 student satisfaction rate of 93 per cent, employer satisfaction rate of 87 per cent and the graduate employment rate of 83.5 per cent, compared to 74.3 per cent nationally. CIT trains over 20,000 students each year including students from over 90 countries.

English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS)

Several institutions in Canberra offer flexible options for international students to learn English, ranging from basic to advanced levels. The ANU College and UC College provide English language preparation and direct entry pathways to their respective universities along with preparation for IELTS exams.

CIT offers a range of courses for learning English that incorporate writing, listening and speaking skills and provide pathways into CIT courses.

A number of private registered training organisations also offer English studies across Canberra.


Canberra has a high quality school education system, with students consistently rating among the best educated in Australia and brightest in the world. In 2015, 87 Government and 45 non-Government schools spanning pre and primary schooling (to year 6), high school (Years 7–10) and college (Years 11 and 12),19 hosted 585 international students from a diverse range of countries.

All Government and some non-Government schools provide English as a Second Language (ESL) and other specialised and tailored programs. Schools also provide an important pathway into tertiary education. Institutions have noted that international school students in Canberra on average score 15–20 points higher on their Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) than in other jurisdictions. The contributions international students make to schools in Canberra are many and varied. International student cohorts enable the broadening and strengthening of curriculum offerings in schools. All students in the school community benefit through the creation and maintenance of small or specialist classes, particularly in areas of science, mathematics and languages.

The Global Opportunity

More than 1 billion students will seek education and skills training by 2025, with the 15 to 29-year-old population forecast to increase from 1.77 billion in 2015 to 1.85 billion.20

The scale of this opportunity and growth reflects global trends and demographics. Rising incomes and a growing middle class are driving demand for high quality education, and increasing development and industrialisation is driving demand for skilled workers, largely across Asia.

Global mobility of students, academics and trainers is increasing, with greater connectivity between markets driven by direct connections, people to people links, and technology enabling diverse delivery models — in an environment of greater choice, innovation, change and disruption.

Our opportunities will differ widely across countries — India seeks to train 400 million people by 2022. In other Asian markets, free trade agreements promise to open up new opportunities as Governments emphasise differing skills needs. In China, research and development intensity is growing, but the population of 15–29 year olds is forecast to reduce over the next ten years.

Traditional competitor countries such as the US and UK are increasingly active, and traditional source countries such as China, India and Malaysia are emerging as competitors with new campuses offering English language programs in market.

While it will not be possible to be all things to all people in all countries, an informed and targeted approach will ensure that specific opportunities and markets are identified, in which our strengths and competencies can best be leveraged and success built on.

National Strategies

The National Strategy for International Education, the Australian International Education 2025 Market Development Roadmap and the Global Alumni Strategy, launched in April 2016, all recognise the importance of education, training and research to Australia.

The strategies note Australia ranks third in the world for attracting international tertiary students, with around 500,000 core (onshore) students in 2015 or 6 per cent of the global market. It brings $19.65 billion to our national economy and supports 130,000 jobs. Australia’s reputation for quality, the continuum of pathways from schools to Vocation Education and Training to Higher Education and Research, and industry links, are important in underpinning future economic growth. Deloitte Access Economics has identified international education among five future ‘super growth’ sectors.

The strategies set a ten year collective ambition for the sector, and Governments, to drive growth and embrace new opportunities through a number of pillars including: maintaining quality, enhancing the student experience, stronger partnerships (at home and abroad), enhanced mobility, promoting excellence and engaging alumni. Emphasis is placed on collaboration and partnerships, competing at scale, and product and delivery innovation.

Achieving this vision will require significant investment in capacity — both in the sector and related industries, in infrastructure as well as innovation to commercialise ideas and the downstream opportunities it will generate. In addition, practical limitations such as higher education and visa policy settings (including work rights), through to challenges such as ensuring accommodation and the safety of onshore students, mean a collaborative and realistic approach is needed. Importantly, we will need to adopt a contemporary focus on maintaining quality, enabling sustainable growth and supporting diversification across countries and offerings.

A Strategy for Canberra


Through a collaborative approach with our education providers, we will build on Canberra’s reputation as a centre for high quality education, world class research collaboration, innovation, employment outcomes, liveability and a great student experience to significantly increase the international education sector’s contribution to Canberra’s economy. Our collaborative approach will not only benefit institutions looking to attract students to Canberra but will promote online and short term intensive study at Canberra’s education institutions.


Market and Promote Canberra as a Centre for High Quality Education and an Education Destination of Choice

The ACT Government, through the Study Canberra program, will ensure coordinated and consistent marketing and promotion of Canberra as a centre for high quality education and an education destination of choice by raising brand awareness and creating strong positive perceptions of Canberra both in Australia and overseas.

Specifically, the ACT Government will:
  • Market Canberra as a centre for high quality education and a study destination of choice for international students, domestic students, researchers and academic mobility (in coordination with skilled migration programs) by aligning and leveraging the marketing effort of our major providers;
  • Grow the Study Canberra brand as a single point of high level advice and messaging (in association with Brand Canberra and national branding);
  • Partner with education institutions in the ACT to provide Study Canberra Scholarships to high achieving students;
  • Work with the business and school community to look at ways to support an increase in international school student numbers;
  • Update marketing collateral with messaging informed by research and best practice;
  • Promote the benefits of Canberra as a centre for high quality education to the wider Canberra community and across Government;
  • Actively participate in national forums that focus on supporting Australian international education marketing and development;
  • Celebrate successful international education outcomes through awards programs, case studies, media stories and alumni networks.

Enhance the Student Experience

Research indicates that recommendations from family and friends, alumni and student counsellors influence study destination decisions. In addition, integration with the community and supportive networks facilitate word of mouth referrals, which nurture relationships and underpin continued growth. Ensuring students and academics have a positive experience will support Canberra’s reputation as a centre for high quality education and a study destination of choice.

Specifically, the ACT Government will:
  • Expand engagement and outreach activities to enhance the student experience and encourage community integration (for example by providing up to date information on issues of interest to students and by supporting events that make students feel welcome in Canberra);
  • Help connect students to the wider community life of Canberra, including helping them understand and explore employment opportunities in Canberra and the region;
  • Employ and leverage Study Canberra Student Ambassadors to provide a better understanding of the issues faced by students resident in Canberra;
  • Work with stakeholders and representative bodies to continue to uphold Canberra’s strong reputation for safety and wellbeing;
  • Ensure that the children of international students are appropriately supported in terms of services and concessions;
  • Work with providers, authorities and students to resolve issues (such as accommodation, education quality, visa issues and transport) that may adversely affect student experience.

Grow International Engagement

Achieving our goals will require an understanding of international education market dynamics and a collaborative approach to them. It will require working together at all levels to establish and leverage support networks including from Australian Government missions, local foreign embassies, agents, and alumni networks. Events in market and formal partnerships will leverage ‘badge of Government’ support combined with institutional capabilities.

Specifically, the ACT Government will:
  • Work with education providers to grow existing source countries and diversify into new ones;
  • Leverage outbound/inbound trade missions, education fairs, events, embassy links, education agents and alumni networks to promote Canberra as a centre for high quality education;
  • Use the advent of direct international flights to Singapore and Wellington to promote Canberra as a centre for high quality education and a study destination into the Asian and New Zealand markets;
  • Utilise the ACT Government’s international relationships to develop new international education markets.

Strengthen Partnerships and Collaboration

Capitalising on opportunities and overcoming challenges will require strong partnerships and collaboration at the local, national and international levels to set directions, identify joint activities, coordinate priorities, share insights and evaluate progress, advocate for Canberra’s interests and engage with the wider region and other key supporting stakeholders.

Specifically, the ACT Government will
  • Use the ACT Vice Chancellors’ Forum to review and update the strategy as necessary and to oversee the activities of Study Canberra;
  • Collaborate with the Australian Government and advocate for Canberra’s interests;
  • Facilitate local collaboration and regional engagement particularly with the Canberra Region Joint Organisation and the NSW Government;
  • Provide internship opportunities for international students both within the ACT Government and by influencing other employers in the ACT including the Commonwealth Government;
  • Leverage opportunities from other ACT Government initiatives such as investment attraction programs, international engagement strategies and innovation and commercialisation activities.

Support Reforms to Enable Growth

Strong institutions drive city development and sustainable growth that will cement Canberra’s position as Australia’s education capital.

In turn, institutional development requires support from Government in areas such as planning, investment attraction, research funding, and complementary policy and program settings at the Territory and Commonwealth levels.

In Confident & Business Ready: Building on Our Strengths the ACT Government committed to an economic development focus in its relationship with the education institutions. The recent Deed of Agreement with UC is an example of the ACT Government engaging with an education institution to the benefit of the community. The development of City West in partnership with ANU is another strong example of collaborative partnerships leading to Canberra wide benefits.

Specifically, the ACT Government will
  • Continue to support the growth of the education institutions as a major element in the diversification of Canberra’s economy;
  • Support the development of education and industry precincts;
  • Minimise the regulatory burden to enable institutions to grow and attract investment.

Success Measures

The goals and strategies outlined will be supported by annual work plans developed by Study Canberra and endorsed by the ACT Vice Chancellors’ Forum that will evolve and change in response to developments over time.

Success will be based on a partnership approach and shared ownership of the goal and strategies, with institutions driving pursuit of opportunities and Government providing appropriate support.

The benefits of international education such as greater people to people links, cultural awareness and talent attraction and retention are implicit. There is no single success measure, but broad economic development indicators will include:

  • Consistent, sustainable growth in enrolments and associated jobs, export and investment outcomes
  • Improved benchmarking measures within Australia and internationally
  • Growth in key capability areas/centres of excellence and R&D/Innovation outcomes

Specific success indicators will include:

Destination Marketing and Promotion
  • Greater brand awareness and recognition (including as Australia’s Education Capital, and of success stories)
Student Experience
  • Improvements in rankings, from surveys and positive feedback
  • Improved employment outcomes and program connections
International Engagement
  • Successful missions and events (number or satisfaction of participants)
  • Retention of key source markets, and diversification into new ones
  • Satisfaction of stakeholders
Supporting Reforms
  • Satisfaction of stakeholders, and measurable economic development outcomes


  1. Deloitte Access Economics, 2014. Higher Learning: Economic and Social Impact of the Major Universities in the ACT.
  2. Australian Geography of Innovative Entrepreneurship, Office of the Chief Economist, September 2015.
  3. Deloitte Access Economics, 2014. op. cit.
  4. Deloitte Access Economics, 2015. The Economic Contribution of the ACT’s Universities and Research Institutions.
  5. ABS 5220 Share of ACT Gross State Product (GSP) by Industry Value Added, 2014–15, Current Prices; ABS 6291.0.55.003 Labour Force, Australia, Detailed, Quarterly; Deloitte Access Economics, 2014 op cit.
  6. ABS 5368.0.55.004 – International Trade: Supplementary Information, Calendar Year, 2015.
  7. Corliss M, Lewis P, and Daly A, (2013) “The Rate of Return to Higher Education Over the Business Cycle” Australian Journal of Labour Economics: 16(2).
  8. ABS 6227.0 - Education and Work, Australia, May 2015; ABS 6302 Average Weekly Earnings, Australia, Nov 2015; ABS 6202.0 Labour Force – June 2016.
  9. ABS 3412.0 – Migration, Australia, 2014–15. Table 6.9 Estimated resident population, by country of birth, Australian Capital Territory by age and sex – 30 June 2011.
  10. DFAT – Missions in Australia (Canberra) – [106 resident, as at 14 June 2016].
  11. QS Best Student Cities 2016 – considers factors such as individual university rankings, student mix, affordability and quality of living to rank cities around the world on attractiveness to potential students.
  12. ABS 3235.0 – Population by Age and Sex, Regions of Australia, 2015.
  13. OECD Measuring Regional and Local Well-being for Policy Making, 2014.
  14. ABS 4177.0 Participation in Sport and Physical Recreation, Australia, 2013–14.
  15. ABS 3235.0 Op cit.
  16. Deloitte Access Economics, 2014. op cit.
  17. Canberra Region Joint Organisation, June 2016.
  18. Deloitte Access Economics, 2014. Op cit.
  19. ACT Education Directorate, June 2016.
  20. EduWorld and Deloitte Access Economics, 2015. Growth and Opportunity in Australian International Education.