China rise disguises foreign numbers fall

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 September, 2005, 12:00am

A surge in Australian university enrolments from mainland and Indian students has allayed fears of a collapse in Australia's overseas education market.

The federal government's overseas marketing arm, Australian Education International (AEI), says the mainland now leads the rest of the world with nearly 72,000 of its students enrolled on campus and offshore with Australia's 40 universities.

Mainland numbers were up by 19 per cent last year as India exceeded China's growth rate with a 30 per cent rise - equating to nearly 24,500 students.

A report by the Department of Trade notes that fees from mainland students accounted for nearly A$1 billion ($5.98 billion) in Australia's $5.9 billion education services industry last year.

Traditional markets, however, are continuing to decline. The AEI report says numbers from Hong Kong were down 7 per cent in the year to July while Malaysia fell by 3.4 per cent. Singapore, where the government is promoting its education hub concept across Asia, showed an 8.7 per cent drop.

Total overseas enrolments for the year increased by more than 6 per cent compared with 2004. But if the mainland and India were excluded, total enrolment growth would have been almost zero, with the same rate for commencements.

Observers warn that this will not be enough to maintain current levels of enrolment growth.

Significant increases are occurring in other markets, however, as a result of heavy recruiting by AEI and the university's recruiting agency, IDP Education.

Although starting from a very small base, enrolments from 14 Middle East markets were up by 22 per cent, those from South America jumped by nearly 29 per cent and from English-speaking African countries by 5 per cent.

Overall, 304,000 international students are undertaking courses with Australian universities this year - a rise of 8.6 per cent on last year.

The Department of Trade report says Australian universities host more international students than any other country in the OECD on a share of total enrolments.

It notes that Australian institutions have been warned that Asian nations have begun to allocate far more funds to develop their own education systems.