Stringent visa rules, fear of attack on ethnic students affecting Oz varsity export earnings

Melbourne, Sept.15 (ANI): Universities in Australia rely heavily on foreign student fees to keep themselves financially afloat, but over the past 18 months, a number of factors have led to a fall in the number of overseas students wanting to study in Australia.

According to a report in The Age, questions are now being raised about whether Australia's business model for international education is as good as it once was.

Having earned a whopping 18 billion dollars in fiscal 2009-10, the higher education sector in Australia is now passing through a phase of deep frustration in the wake of recent government policy changes, which have contributed to the drop-off in foreign students.

The federal government last year introduced more stringent rules governing student visas, and tightened immigration regulations. This has caused a slowdown in the rate of foreign students starting courses.

Melbourne University's higher education expert, Simon Marginson, argues that the downturn is primarily due to immigration policy changes, not a fall in demand, though that is also occurring.

Melbourne University education economist Ross Williams predicts the damage to universities will reverberate through the economy, with fewer foreign students affecting property prices (since foreign students form a large part of the rental market) and dampening demand for ancillary services such as cafes around universities.

Swinburne University Vice-Chancellor Ian Young believes the government must encourage more international students to come to Australia.

"The real danger in Australia is sending a message out into the market that we're really not interested in having international students come to Australia. So the market is basically voting with their feet, and saying if Australia doesn't want us, there are other places we can go," he says.

A Group of Eight leading universities has warned that a crippling downturn in foreign student numbers would imperil universities.

In a recent report, Professor Phillimore and fellow Curtin University colleague Paul Koshy warned that by 2015, foreign student enrolments in higher education could plunge from about 214,000 in 2010 to about 148,000 in 2015, resulting in 36,182 fewer jobs and a collapse of seven billion dollars in university revenues.

Australia's reputation as a study destination has also taken a hammering, with attacks on foreign students, the collapse of private colleges, the immigration debate during the election campaign and tougher student visa rules.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans, however, has defended the government's visa changes.

He said the government would work collaboratively with the sector to "ensure these reforms strike the right balance between making the visa application process easier for genuine students, while imposing appropriate checks on those who may seek to abuse the system". (ANI)

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