AS about 3,500 Hongkong students were enrolling at universities and institutes around Australia this week, paying up to A$30,000 (HK$160,000) a year for a place, about 50,000 local students who missed out on a place watch with envy and, in some cases, resentment. It's not that they would be there if the Hongkong and other overseas students were not - local students are not allowed to pay for a place in a government tertiary institution. But to those who don't understand that difference - and even to some who do -it looks unfair. Australia's jobless total passed the one million mark for the first time last month as school-leavers made their presence felt in the dole queues. Not only are many without a job, many have little prospect of getting one. More than half the unemployed have been job hunting for more than six months. The tertiary fees policy is at worst, racist, at best, anti-Australian, says Mr Brad Woods, president of the Australian Liberal Students Federation. He cites the example of Ballarat University College, north of Melbourne, which had places for 400 to 600 students it did not have enough government money to fund, but was prevented from selling to local students. That won't be the case if the Liberal-National Coalition is elected in the federal election on March 13. Its policy is for a voucher system to refund the fees of eligible students and to allow those ineligible to pay their own. It says up to 10,000 students a year would be willing to pay for a university place - a figure disputed by the Labor government. Just how the Coalition's policy would work is unclear. For instance, would local students be eligible to compete and pay for the places now occupied by overseas students, leading to a cut in the overseas student numbers? Institutions which have devoted large sums to selling themselves overseas could be expected to fight that, and Mr Max Shoder, director of the international programme at Australia's largest enroller of overseas students, the University of New South Wales, says his office is carrying on as usual. The export of Australian education is now an industry worth an estimated A$1 billion a year. Recruiting overseas students has become a cut-throat competition for the Australian colleges. There is increasing dissatisfaction with the nine Australian Education Centres, including one in Wan Chai, run by the International Development Programme (IDP) as one-stop shops for students. They represent all the 176 institutions who subscribe to the IDP. A recent review of the IDPs found Australia is at risk of being seen with suspicion because of the hard-sell approach of its institutions. ''Australia has no perceived position as a quality provider in any identified academic disciplines and quality of information about Australian education lags behind that available for the UK and the US,'' it said. The report comes as demand from Hongkong students for a tertiary education here is declining, partly because the post-Tiananmen Square massacre rush has eased, partly because of Hongkong's ageing population and the increase in tertiary places in Hongkong. So marketing strategies ranging from visits to New Territories schools, to alumni associations in Hongkong, are needed to fight off competition from the United States, Britain and Canada, it says. How many Hongkong students there will be in Australian colleges this year is unclear, but it's expected to be slightly down on last year's 3,500 and the 3,900 in 1991.