Are foreign students at high risk of death?

I’d never seen any data on the deaths of international students while in Australia, so I was interested in this story in The Age this morning reporting 54 deaths in the year to November 2008 (though annoyed at the beat-up elements – claiming the information was ‘suppressed’ by the coroner, when there is no evidence of anything other than reluctance to publish possibly unreliable data).

Obviously 54 deaths is 54 too many, but so far as I can work out this a death rate below that of the general population. Though there are statistical problems in working out the base population for overseas students (because the number of overseas students who will be in Australia at some time during a year will give a too-high number, due to short courses, mid-year starts and finishes etc), my estimate is that this gives a death rate of about .02%.

For a local comparison, I looked at deaths of 20-somethings in Australia. That works out at around .04% of the base population, or around double the death rate of overseas students. On the other hand, perhaps the relevant comparison group is Australian students – if we assume that the local death rate is increased by including the kinds of risk-taking and underlying illness that is under-represented in the student population. (The death rate of Australian students is not ‘suppressed’, it is just not recorded.)

Indians appear to be over-represented among the deaths, so perhaps another comparison point is the death rate of young Indians of similar backgrounds in India. I would have thought that the risk of death from accidents or disease was much lower here.

4 July update: Coroner to improve statistics on international student deaths.