The president of the Central Market sounds the alarm of the absence of international students

The head of the Adelaide Central Market Authority, Theo Maras, believes all is well inside the compound with one exception: “We are short of students.”

Prominent South Australian developer Theo Maras told Adelaide City Council elected members this week during an update on Adelaide Central Market’s 2021-2022 Q3 budget, the city is feeling the effects of students missing.

“I was there as president of Adelaide Central Market [and] The comment I made was aimed at that, but I can assure you that there is also a comment I make for the entire city”, he clarified to CityMag.

“[Maras Group has] the property in the East End of Adelaide and the University of Adelaide are here, and we have three, four major residential institutions that are here for students, which are not crowded.

“We can tell when students aren’t with us, not because they’re not there, but because of the money they spend.”

We had all our eggs in one basket.
—Theo Maras

Maras’ real estate company, Maras Group, owns 18 single- and multi-tenant properties on Rundle Street.

Maras said he estimated a 20 per cent drop in international student spending in the East End, a figure in line with official data on the pandemic-induced drop in foreign student numbers in Adelaide.

He was unable to reveal “with any certainty or precision” the shrinking profits from Adelaide Central Market, but over the past 18 months he had spoken to a variety of Asian gourmet food stall and restaurant owners on the premises who noted the shortfall.

“The mistake that I think we made was that we had all our eggs in one basket, and that we had many more Chinese students than any other nationality,” Maras said.

“I don’t think that’s a very smart business move.”

Theo Maras. This photo: Tony Lewis

The most recent federal government data from September 2021 indicates that the largest international student population in the country comes from China (166,319), followed by India (97,613) and Nepal (44,637).

Now Adelaide City Services Director Tom McCready highlighted last year that the “biggest threat” facing the city’s economy was missing international students.

A 2020 Mitchell Institute report states that international students “contribute directly” to Australian businesses: 36% of international student spending goes to retail and hospitality, generating $5.5 billion nationally each year .

Maras said the absence of international students was first highlighted by tenants at the start of the pandemic and while concerns had been “eased” they were still “ongoing”.

Jane Johnston is Executive Director of StudyAdelaide, a body to attract international students to the state, funded by the three leading universities, the state government and the city of Adelaide.

She said CityMag Compared to pre-pandemic levels, there were nearly 20 per cent fewer international students in South Australia, despite a significant uptick this year.

“The latest international student data (February 2022) shows that the number of graduations in South Australia is up 33% compared to the same period in 2021,” said Johnston.

“While this shows that the sector is beginning to recover, compared to the same period in 2020, the number of international students starting is still 17% lower.”

Johnston said that since the national borders were opened to international students in December, more than 7,000 students have arrived in Adelaide.

“These students bring vitality and diversity to the city,” he said.

“They contribute to our workforce and skills needs, our economy, and provide global links for local students and businesses.”

Asked if there were fewer Chinese student enrollments or graduations in South Australia this year, Johnston said “we haven’t seen all of our Chinese students return to Adelaide, partly due to travel restrictions in China.

“Our institutions continue to teach these students online, as they have during the pandemic. We look forward to welcoming you back to our city.”

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