Warning on overseas 'cash cows'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 January, 2008, 12:00am

Australian academics fear that inadequate spending on higher education by the new Labor government could threaten the nation's A$11 billion (HK$75.86 billion) export education industry.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, more than 140 senior academics called on the government to reduce universities' dependence on overseas full-fee students.

'This is a practice that has led to the emergence of cash-crop education programmes which have damaged Australia's reputation in education,' the academics said.

They expressed concern that universities could be overlooked despite Labor's pre-election promise to introduce an 'education revolution'. Spokesman Andrew Brennan said universities were now so desperate for revenue they were treating fee-paying foreign students as 'cash cows', rather than providing quality courses.

Professor Brennan, who teaches philosophy at La Trobe University in Melbourne, warned that Australia could lose its reputation as a quality destination for foreign students unless under-funding of universities was reversed.

'Unless our concerns are addressed, Australia will lose what international standing we have left,' he said.

Foreign students now make up almost one in four Australian higher education enrolments and their fees contribute more than A$2 billion to university revenues.

They are estimated to add A$11 billion a year to the national economy in spending on housing, travel and accommodation.

But Professor Brennan said universities were increasingly reliant on the fees students paid because federal funding under the previous government had failed to keep up with the cost of running universities.

Their letter said a true education revolution must include a new wave of higher education reform.

'Such reform will redress the imbalances that have characterised the sector over the last decade or more. Such reform should redirect resources back into the core university activities of teaching and research.'