Two-thirds of foreign students studying for degrees in Australia plan to remain in the country after graduating, a new survey has revealed.
The survey found that only 26 per cent of international students intended to return to their own homes, while fewer that one in 10 planned on living in another country.
As 150,000 foreign students were enrolled on campus in Australian universities in May, the survey results suggest that some 100,000 hope to stay on and begin their careers far from where they were born.
The survey points to the continuing 'brain drain' around the world as a flood of skilled people move from developing countries to the richer nations of the west.
Africa, a continent with a critical shortage of high-level skills, loses 70,000 highly qualified scholars and experts each year to developed countries, according to the World Bank.
Efforts by individual African countries to stem the outflow of talent have largely failed, forcing them to seek ways of harnessing the skills of top-flight academics and professionals who have left through collaborative arrangements.
A report released last week by Graduate Careers Australia found that 65 per cent of international students intended to apply for permanent residency either during or after completing their courses.
The GCA survey received responses from 30,000 students, including 4,000 foreign students.
But the results reveal that foreign students are less confident of obtaining employment following their course than domestic students and rate their employability skills lower than their domestic counterparts.
It found international students are more career-focused, with a higher proportion agreeing that a successful career is the most important goal of their life - 68.7 per cent of international students, compared with 40.7 per cent of domestic students.
An investigation by Monash University sociologist Bob Birrell found that an estimated 55,000 overseas students had gained permanent residency in the five years to 2006.
Dr Birrell said an increasing number of students from mainland China and India were applying for permanent residency.
He said a major attraction for the students coming to Australia was the prospect of being able to remain after graduating and get professional jobs.
Although the vast majority of other Asian students were enrolled in undergraduate degrees, most Indian students were postgraduates undertaking master's degrees, usually as a means of obtaining permanent residency visas, Dr Birrell said.
A large number of the latter group enrolled in courses such as accounting and engineering to boost their chances of staying on in Australia.
Other western countries are also seeing a rising number of foreign students apply for permanent residency but, as with the situation in Africa, their gain represents a loss to the home countries which are mostly in underdeveloped regions.
Cate Gribble, a researcher at RMIT University in Melbourne, said the global competition for knowledge and skills was showing no signs of abating. 'The long-term development risks for countries experiencing a significant and permanent loss of students and academics are serious,' Ms Gribble said.
'Many developing countries can ill afford to lose skilled labour that is critical to institution building and the development of social and human capacity.'