Chinese prop up Australian system

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 June, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 June, 2005, 12:00am

Mainland student enrolments in Australian universities are propping up the country's education export industry, latest figures reveal.

The number of mainland students on campus in Australia jumped almost 30 per cent to 11,000 in the first semester this year.

But many universities otherwise recorded falling or static enrolments of foreign students after years of spectacular increases.

In the past five years alone, foreign student numbers have almost doubled and now exceed 150,000 on-campus with a further 56,000 studying offshore.

More than 300,000 students from China are enrolled in universities, technical colleges, schools and English language colleges, contributing about A$6.5 billion ($38.8 billion) a year to the economy.

But experts warn that China is becoming a market competitor for students from other parts of Asia. The universities' recruiting agency, IDP Education, says the mainland, along with Singapore and Malaysia, is rapidly expanding its own higher education sector. 'China now has more international students than Australia has and it will continue to grow,' an IDP spokesman said.

IDP data indicates that global student demand for university study will more than double to 260 million by 2025.

But, with a strong Australian dollar, higher tuition and visa fees, and shifts in the job market, Australian universities are losing their edge.

The Australian Vice-chancellors' Committee has warned that government plans to prohibit universities from charging compulsory student services fees could affect the quality of the university experience for foreign students across the board.

Federal Education Minister Dr Brendan Nelson has told universities they must not impose fees on students next year or face heavy fines and cuts in their government grants.

The compulsory fees range from $200 to nearly $1,000 a year and cover the provision of a range of services from sporting facilities, clubs, counselling officers and cafes to job placement staff.