Mainland students flocking to Australia
Mainland students graduating from Australian universities now far outnumber those from any other country, according to the latest figures released by the federal Education Department.
This is the second year mainland students have dominated graduation figures in Australia following a lowering of immigration barriers. Malaysia previously held the top spot.
Almost 10,500 mainland students who had been studying onshore in Australia graduated from the nation's universities in 2005 - a 50 per cent increase on the previous year, the figures show.
Another 3,330 Hong Kong students were also awarded degrees, although they were far outnumbered by students from India - the second-largest group of onshore students with more than 5,700 graduating.
Over the past five years, the number of foreign fee-paying students qualifying for Australian degrees after studying either in Australia or their home countries has almost doubled and now exceeds 70,000 a year.
Yet in 2001, the number of on-campus overseas students who graduated amounted to only 27,000 and a further 14,000 completed their courses offshore.
While the great majority of Chinese students from the mainland, Hong Kong and Singapore undertake undergraduate degree courses in Australia, the reverse is the case with those from India.
Of the 5,700 Indians who graduated in 2005 after studying on-campus in Australia, fewer than 630 were awarded a bachelor's degree and the rest were postgraduates, mostly master's degree students.
A significant proportion of this latter group had undertaken courses such as accounting and engineering that improved their chances of gaining permanent residency visas.
'Most of the growth in enrolments of foreign students over the past four years has been from China and India - and the current graduation rates reflect this,' said Bob Birrell, a demographer at Monash University in Melbourne who heads the centre for population and urban research.
He said the huge increases in the number of Chinese and Indian students graduating from Australian universities were reflected in the rising number of overseas students applying for permanent residency.
Foreign students who graduated from Australian universities were filling jobs because of a shortage of local graduates, Professor Birrell said.
He added Australian employers faced a huge gap between the output of domestic university graduates and the skill demands flowing from the country's long economic boom.
In a report on the skills shortage released in August, Professor Birrell noted that since the government of Prime Minister John Howard took office in 1996, it had effectively capped the number of subsidised university places for local students.
Instead, the big increase in enrolments had been among full fee-paying overseas students, whereas domestic undergraduate numbers barely increased between 2001 and 2005.
Bob Kinnaird, a Sydney-based immigration analyst, said new immigration rules would create even more disincentives for local students to enter university.
From last month, overseas students graduating in a much wider range of courses are eligible for a new temporary work visa - the 'graduate skills' or 485 visa - which is a new pathway to permanent residency in Australia.
'This new visa will not only increase the supply of graduates competing for entry-level jobs in many fields, it also provides a strong incentive for overseas graduates to undercut local wage rates to get the skilled jobs needed to qualify for the permanent visa,' Mr Kinnaird said.
'Reducing graduate wages is hardly the way to encourage more Australian students to enrol in costly university courses.'
The latest figures from the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation show Australia is the fifth-most-popular destination for foreign university students, behind the United States, Britain, Germany and France.
The US attracts 22 per cent, followed by Britain (12 per cent), Germany (10 per cent), France (9 per cent), Australia (6 per cent) and Japan (5 per cent).
The number of eligible fee-paying foreign students exceeds 70,000
In 2005, the number of mainlanders who had studied onshore and graduated from Australian universities rose by 50%