Issues like cultural diversity and safety are key factors being considered by international students when considering applying to study at a university in Australia, new research has found.

Proximity to where they want to study is the top consideration, followed by multiculturalism and safety, especially in Sydney, Adelaide and Canberra, according to the fifth annual survey from student recruitment firm IDP Education.

students-universityThe survey of 2,800 IDP clients from 30 countries found that perceptions of Australia as a safe place to study has improved steadily in the last decade when some applicants had been deterred by high profile cases involving foreign students being attacked.

There has also been an improved perception of the cost of studying in Australia which is often regarded as an expensive place to go to university. Last year's study suggested that students were unaware of the cost of living in Australia and it was a shock when they arrived in the country.

It found that recent changes to visa processing seem to have had little impact on student flows and overall Australia, along with Canada and New Zealand, and unlike the United States and Britain, was perceived as a welcoming country.

In a new area for the survey the respondents were asked for the first time if they knew anyone in the country where they applied to study. It found that two thirds of students knew somebody in Australia, and nine in 10 spoke to someone before they moved to the country.

It is the vibrancy of Australian cities that attracts overseas students, in particular their international diversity and overall safety.

'Australia is starting to see the collective effort of government, industry and community in changing the perceived value of studying abroad. At the same time, we've seen that assumptions about different regions in Australia have remained largely unchanged in the last few years, highlighting the challenge of shifting perceptions among international students,' said Lyndell Jacka, head of research for IDP Education.

'Positively, Australia's multiculturalism should be seen as a continuing strength for the diverse and inclusive image it fosters, and for the strong family and friendship networks many students do in fact already have in the country,' she explained.

'A collaborative effort will continue to help prepare students for life and employment in an increasingly connected and multicultural world, so that they are more likely to talk favourably about their experience in Australia,' she added.