Australia's once booming education sector is now bracing for tougher times with tighter immigration rules and attacks on Indian students resulting in falling enrolments, prompting experts and academics to question the government's policies.
The drop in enrolments of foreign students have prompted leading universities across Australia to draw the attention of the federal government to the issue.
The enrolments of foreign students dropped significantly in Australia due to series of factors including new immigration rules, a higher dollar value and attacks on Indian students. "What's brewing here is deep frustration among universities that recent government policy changes are fuelling the drop-off in foreign students," eminent commentator Horst Albert Glaser, emeritus professor at Germany's University of Duisburg-Essen, was quoted as saying by 'The Age'.
In an attempt to stamp out visa rorting, and weaken the link between immigration and education, the federal government last year introduced more stringent rules governing student visas, and tightened immigration regulations.
This, the report said, has led to a slowdown in the rate of foreign students starting courses. It is believed that Australian universities relied on the international student market for an average 16 per cent of their total funding, and used much of that revenue to cross-subsidise local students.
"If the university sector ends up in financial crisis it is taxpayers who will be bailing them out," Stephen King, dean of the business and economics faculty at Monash, said.
According to Melbourne University's higher education expert, Simon Marginson, the downturn was primarily due to immigration policy changes, not due to drop in demand.
"This export industry cannot be expected to grow forever. And the long-term quality and reputation of Australian international education, including its commercial capacity, depends on the resources we put into it," he said.
Melbourne University education economist Ross Williams said the damage to universities will have a cascading effect on the economy as rental markets will be affected and so will ancillary services such as cafes around universities.
The trends were threatening a number of Universities which hitherto relied on foreign students for a substantial sum of revenue. The likes of Central Queensland University which relied on foreign students for 44 per cent of total revenue, Monash University, Melbourne University, La Trobe University and many others now in a vulnerable position.