Nearly 147,000 students started courses in the first three months of this year, above the previous first quarter record of 142,400 reached in 2009 at the peak of the last education export boom.
Universities and other higher education institutions also took their largest ever intake of new international students this year, with 61,493 starting courses in the first quarter.
Responding to the figures, federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne will this week commission a review of the economic benefits of education exports focussed on the additional income and job opportunities created in local communities and highlighting its potential to help fill the gap in export income caused by the end of the resources boom.
Even as resource exports come under pressure, education exports grew 14 per cent in the past year to be worth $17.5 billion annually. Education is now Australia's third-largest export industry after iron ore and coal, and the largest service export. It is substantially larger than tourism, which is worth $14.5 billion annually.
In 2014 Australia hosted 590,000 international students, up 12.3 per cent on 2013, and signs are that strong growth will continue, with enrolments in the first quarter of 2015 up 11.5 per cent on the same period in 2014. Aside from the lower dollar, student numbers have been boosted by two Labor government schemes, streamlined student visa processing and visas which allow graduates temporary stays (including work) in Australia after graduation.