Australia Experiences Sharp Falloff in Rate of Increase in New Foreign Students

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Mar 9 15:21:54 UTC 2006

Thursday, March 9, 2006

Australia Experiences Sharp Falloff in Rate of Increase in New Foreign

Wellington, New Zealand

After decades of muscular annual growth, especially as measured against
the United States, the annual rate of increase of new foreign students who
enrolled at Australian universities flattened out in 2005, according to
new official data. Australian Education International, which is part of
the country's Education Department, released figures showing that in 2005
the number of new international faces at Australian campuses rose by just
0.8 percent above the number for the same period in 2004, from 65,841
students to 66,360. The figures represent a sharp falloff from the typical
growth of previous years, when the rate of increase was about 10 times

Hardest hit among the country's six states and two territories were
populous New South Wales and Victoria, which between them enroll the
lion's share of all university students. New enrollments last year in
those two states shrank by 1 and 2.2 percent, respectively. Among the
places of origin showing the largest declines in sending international
students to Australia were Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore, all of
which have been more actively courted by other potential
destination-countries over the past five years. During the same period,
the declining value of the greenback and the strengthening of the
Australian dollar have eroded one of Australia's key selling points: its
relative affordability in comparison with other developed countries. At
the same time, though, the key provider nations of China and India held up

Responding to the unexpected leveling off, the education spokeswoman for
the opposition Labor Party, M.P. Jenny Macklin, warned of universities
"going through the floor" as a result of their dependency on lucrative
fee-paying foreign students, who now appear to be taking at least some of
their business elsewhere. Australian institutions of higher learning risk
being left in a "terrible financial position," Ms. Macklin said. She noted
that at least half a dozen of the country's 39 universities now rely on
international students to provide more than 20 percent of their income.
The new enrollment figures relate only to the 140,000 foreign nationals
physically studying in Australia, but not the 60,000 international
students enrolled at one of the country's 1,500 offshore arrangements,
mostly in Southeast Asia and, increasingly, the Middle East.

Taken together, student numbers continue to suggest that the international
outlook for Australian institutions remains in a "healthy situation," said
Anthony Pollock, the chief executive of IDP Australia, the umbrella
organization responsible for most of the country's recruitment of foreign
students. Even so, Mr. Pollock cautioned, the situation clearly "requires
long-term care" if the country is to be able to counter the offers being
made by its global competitors, in particular Britain, Canada, and the
United States. "While I can understand the concern some might have that
the industry could be peaking and may turn down," he said, "I don't
believe, with this kind of critical mass we now have, that it's possible
for things to move very dramatically in one direction or the other."

Australia's education minister, Julie Bishop, could not be reached for
comment this week. In a written response to previous inquiries, her
department noted that even though the recent increase in new students was
small, it was achieved off a historically high base. Furthermore,
"Australia has continued to grow while major competitor countries have
suffered negative growth," the statement added.

Copyright  2006 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

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