Australia/April 10, 2021/By: Geoff Maslen /Source: https://www.universityworldnews.com
Australia’s universities have enrolled 210,000 fewer international students this year than expected, with the loss of AU$1.8 billion (US$1.4 billion) in income. More than 17,000 jobs have already disappeared from campuses across the higher education sector.
To put the figure in context, according to government data, there were 442,000 international student enrolments in higher education in Australia in 2019, the latest figure available.
But Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge believes Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout could pave the way to boost its intake of international students as early as the start of next year.
Tudge told a conference that Australia’s lucrative international student market could be given a much-needed boost by February 2022.
“With the vaccine rollout under way, I am increasingly hopeful that student arrivals in larger numbers will occur by semester one of next year,” Tudge said.
“We are looking forward to welcoming back international students who remain overseas, and we thank them for their patience to date.
“I hope they appreciate that we have closed the borders for a very good reason.”
Tudge also raised the possibility of individual universities bringing international students to Australia this year if the nation’s chief health officers agreed and safe quarantine quarters were provided.
Billion-dollar market collapses
Australia’s AU$10 billion (US$7.6 billion) international student market collapsed after the federal government closed the nation’s international borders at the beginning of the pandemic.
Tudge claimed enrolments of foreign students at the end of 2020 were only down 7% on 2019, although universities estimate 140,000 students have since been stranded overseas.
Whoever is correct, the fact is that Australia has 210,000 fewer international student enrolments this year than would otherwise have been expected.
Universities Australia, the nation’s representative body, has released data showing the university sector had lost AU$1.8 billion in income from foreign students last year, with at least 17,000 jobs on campuses across the nation having disappeared.
Bringing students back
“Of course, there is still the opportunity to bring students back in small, phased pilots,” Tudge said.
“This could occur if an institution works with the state or territory government and presents a plan to us for quarantining international students.”
But he warned that university plans to bring more foreign students into the country would have to be approved by the chief health officer of each state or territory.
“There must also be quarantine space available above and beyond that presently used for returning Australians.”
Tudge has discussed various plans with state government and university leaders but to date has not received any concrete proposals.
He said he hoped the federal government would have a clearer idea later this year as to when international borders would re-open.
“We are expecting more clarity on these issues by mid-year, at which time we should be more certain on border openings,” he said.
No large numbers returning
Tudge believes it is unlikely that foreign students will be allowed to return in large numbers until 2022, although universities may be able to enrol limited numbers of students from overseas.
He admits the strong growth in onshore international student numbers in recent years was unsustainable, and universities need to rethink this business model.
Specifically: Australia must “rethink the on-campus business model of international education, and more broadly the international education strategy for the nation as a whole”.
“By using international student fees to fund research, universities have undermined the learning experience of domestic students and failed to address skills shortages,” Tudge said.
Narrow focus on management
He noted that half of all international students were enrolled in management and commerce, which were not experiencing skills shortages in Australia.
Instead, the nation’s universities should look towards online rather than onshore education, Tudge said.
“This incredible growth has been good for our economy, but even before COVID hit, strains were appearing and the continued rate of growth of on-campus enrolments was not sustainable in my view.”
Tudge said this was particularly true for the public universities, institutions which had “a broader mandate”.
“Having up to 60% of a classroom with international students from just one or two other countries is not optimising the Australian student experience – or the international student experience,” he said.
“Can we use levers, including migration levers, to encourage more students to study in the areas where we know we have shortages?” he asked.
Docente - Investigadora Educativa.
Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.