Institutions in the US, Australia and New Zealand could close as falling demand hurts their budgets The number of Asian students wanting to study in the United States, Australia and New Zealand is on the decline, threatening the profitable education export industry. It could even drive institutions in the three countries to close. RMIT University in Melbourne last week blamed the fall in demand for onshore education as one reason it was confronting a A$20 million (HK$109.9 million) revenue shortfall this year. Vice-chancellor Dr Ruth Dunkin said budgets would have to be cut to maintain the university's viability. After widespread publicity about the latest financial crisis, Dr Dunkin then announced her resignation. New Zealand is also facing sharp falls in overseas student numbers with English language colleges badly affected. Colleges reported a sudden drop in foreign enrolments of almost 30 per cent in the past 12 months and it seems certain universities and polytechnic colleges will also suffer. The New Zealand Association of Private Providers of English Language said the education export industry was in 'a very profound and disturbing crisis' and there were no signs of a recovery. Language schools were the only part of the international education sector that took enrolments continuously throughout the year, a spokesman said. That meant they were the 'canaries in the cage' in terms of market trends. Most worrying was a big decline in numbers from China, down by 30 per cent, and Korea which fell 36 per cent. The US has also seen a sharp fall in foreign student numbers after it tightened visa restrictions after the terrorist attacks in New York nearly three years ago. Australia's major student recruiting agency, IDP Education, has similarly acknowledged a sudden drop in visa applications has been taking place. IDP recruits about one in every four overseas students but now says the number of students applying for university was down 10 per cent in the first half of the year compared with last year while overall applications had fallen 8 per cent. Just under 300,000 foreign students were enrolled in Australia's education institutions onshore last year - about 60,000 each in technical and English-language colleges, 30,000 in schools and some 140,000 in higher education. IDP recorded a turnover of nearly A$77 million last year after processing 23,000 successful applications. But the unexpected downturn has led to an A$8.6 million fall in application processing fees, turning a forecast $2.5 million profit this year to a likely $1.6 million loss. With more than 700 employees in offices in 36 countries around the world, IDP may now be forced to cut staff numbers and close some of its outposts. Like New Zealand, Australia has been hit by increased competition from other western recruiting nations - particularly in the Southeast Asian market where significant enrolment falls have occurred from Singapore and Malaysia. Higher fees, the relative increase in the value of the Australian dollar, and changes to Australia's immigration rules appear to be turning students away. Last month, the IDP board held a crisis meeting to discuss the downturn in student inquiries and applications from many of the key overseas markets. A spokesman said the board had discussed 'the urgent need for a comprehensive Australian approach to ensure the sustainability of this important industry to the Australian economy'. 'The board called for more investment and engagement by the Australian government to allow the industry to reach its full potential and move away from the current fragmented approach,' the spokesman said. Board chairman Professor Lance Twomey said the company had initiated a programme of diversification and investments into new and emerging markets. He said there was concern about the potential impact on individual sectors particularly the English-language and foundation sectors, and to a lesser extent higher education undergraduate enrolments.