Australia's international education serves as public diplomacy, essentially engaging and influencing public audiences in ways that progress Australian foreign policy priorities and national interests. The multidimensional and increasingly globalised nature of international education presents enormous opportunity for vital exchange and interactions between and with students, academics and communities via onshore and offshore modes of delivery. Positive experiences of student mobility and the development of intellectual, commercial and social relationships can build upon a nation's reputation, and enhance the ability of that nation to participate in and influence regional or global outcomes. This is ultimately the essence of soft power. While Australia has made significant commercial gains through international education, it has fallen short of realising the soft power potential inherent in the volume and depth of interactions, relationships and achievements resulting from it, particularly in the Asian region, where Australia's international education sector continues to be most active. This article argues that there is a soft power benefit in recognising international education as public diplomacy, though acknowledges that challenges exist in connecting the soft power aspirations to reality. Findings suggest that there is room for more coherent public diplomacy leadership and inter-agency coordination, improved evaluation and expanded dialogue both within the sector and the broader community.