"Details of the deaths of more than 50 overseas students have been suppressed by Australian coroners amid evidence the death toll is higher than the Federal Government has admitted," The Age reported Wednesday.
State and territory coroners, under the National Coroners Information System, have refused an application by The Age for data on the deaths of overseas students in the year to November 2008.
"The nationality and occupation of someone who has died is not required to be automatically recorded," a spokeswoman for Victorian Coroner Jennifer Coate was quoted as saying Tuesday. Melbourne is the capital of the province of Victoria.
In February, during questioning in parliament, the government said 51 overseas students died in 2008, with 34 dying of "unknown" causes. Fourteen cases were cited as accidents and three as death from illness.
The death toll is higher than 51 - around 54 - with most coming from India, Korea and China, the report said. Nearly half were Indian, despite Indians holding one-fifth of the total student visas at that time.
Chris Nyland, Monash University business professor, said he was concerned that a drive to protect Australia's lucrative $15.5 billion higher education export market was masking the suffering of foreign students.
"All countries that compete for the education market should be reporting that information.
"And? it would be wonderful if we had good data saying that it was not the case they are harmed at any greater rate than domestic students," he said.
Nyland said there was a need for a federal advisory body on student safety, made up of independent members free from "vested interests in seeing this thing dampened down and going away quietly". He called for mandatory statistical reporting of international student deaths.
National Union of Students president David Barrow said: "The time has come for a full-scale inquiry. Australian society and government need to see all the facts."
Opposition Immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone said she sought the data in February because foreign-student organisations suspected under-reporting of deaths. "To have 34 cited as unknown is an extraordinary statistic," she said.
"It will no doubt be raising further anxiety and alarm, particularly in the Indian student community and their parents and relatives and friends."