On the surface, Australia has been enormously successful in selling higher education to foreign students. But experts warn that the situation facing the nation’s top universities is dangerously precarious.
This year, Australia’s education institutions are collectively expected to generate more than AU$32 billion (US$23 billion) in export revenue from the fees and living expenses outlaid by 700,000 overseas students in schools, colleges and universities.
Of this huge sum, universities will recoup an estimated AU$21 billion from some 550,000 foreign students, a number that has jumped by a staggering 80% in the past five years.
But a new study has found that this overall figure hides a spectacular increase in the dependence of Australia’s leading universities on the revenue earned from one major source: the fees paid by foreign students from China.
Researchers Dr Bob Birrell and Dr Katharine Betts warn that the heavy reliance that these universities have allowed to develop on the fee income from Chinese students puts them in danger.
Should China decide to curtail, or even ban its students from enrolling in Australian education, the impact on many local institutions could be disastrous.
In their report Australia’s Higher Education Overseas Student Industry: In a precarious state, Birrell and Betts of the Australian Population Research Institute point to the University of Sydney as a potentially precarious example. There, the proportion of foreign students enrolling for the first time increased from 23% of all new enrolments in 2012 to 39% four years later.
That is, nearly four in every 10 students on the University of Sydney’s campus are from some other country. And, for the great majority, that country is China.
This huge increase was similar at other leading institutions, including the universities of Melbourne, Monash and New South Wales.
By 2016, say the researchers, their share of commencing overseas students among the total number of newcomers was 36% for the University of Melbourne and Monash University and nearly 39% for the University of New South Wales.
The contribution these foreign students make to the universities’ revenues is enormous. Were that income to fall away, the institutions would face serious financial problems.
Most Australian students face fees of less than AU$10,000 a year – which they can defer paying until they graduate and are earning a good income.
But those from overseas must outlay large sums in tuition costs on enrolment, plus have as much money again to cover their living expenses.
Read more : Geoff Maslen : University World News : 20 November 2018