Australian University VCs Warning on International Student Enrolments and Income
The comments came as the vice-chancellors of Australia’s top research universities wrote to Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to seek assurances that whoever forms government will act swiftly to fix problems in the international education sector.
Professor Byrne told The Age current policies were in danger of ”doing very, very serious harm to one of the most important industries this country has”.
He said Victoria – where international education is the biggest export industry, worth about $4.5 billion a year – had the most to lose. ”Whichever government is returned, they need to give a very high priority to sorting this out,” he said.
Professor Byrne said that while universities had not yet been as badly affected by the drop in overseas student numbers as private colleges and English language schools the worst was yet to come. Australia’s universities have feeder colleges that prepare prospective international students for study at the main institutions.
Monash College is the ”pipeline” for many of Monash University’s overseas students. Professor Byrne said the pipeline was beginning to dry up, signalling serious problems.
”For the first time, we’re noticing significant downturns [in the pipelines].
”It is the early warning sign for the market at large and when we lose that market share, which it has taken a generation to build up, it will be very hard to get it back.”
The Group of Eight universities – Melbourne, Monash, Sydney, Queensland and Adelaide Universities as well as the Australian National University, and the Universities of New South Wales and Western Australia – have called on Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott to commit to actions to shore up the international education sector.
The actions include:
■ Removal of student visa entrants from the government’s net immigration goals.
■ Reviewing policy settings for student visas.
■ A combined approach by government departments and administrative agencies.
Professor Byrne said government had to act quickly to shore up the sector. ”Outside natural resources, the most important industry that Australia has at the moment is higher education.
”The direct cash value is about $7 billion … and to the whole economy it’s about $14 billion a year. For a country that aspires to be a clever country this is a really important industry to us.”
A spokesman for Education Minister Simon Crean said the government made no apologies for measures ”introduced to safeguard the quality of the Australian education brand”.
But, he said, if returned a Labor government would ”continue to monitor the impact of these changes on international students [and] work with all stakeholders to ensure that Australia continues to be a quality provider of international education.”
Mr Abbott’s office would not comment because it had not yet received the letter from the eight universities.