Foreign student fees ‘can’t sustain research costs’
By Tim Dodd, Education Editor
12:00AM MAY 15, 2019
Australia’s eight research-intensive universities say they can’t go on relying on the fees paid by foreign students to fund their research programs.
The heavy reliance of universities on foreign students, who paid nearly $8 billion in tuition fees last year, is a major issue in higher education that has been little mentioned in this election campaign.
Yet the issue causes disquiet in universities, which are aware that the large Chinese student market, which delivers nearly four in 10 of the international students in Australian universities, is softening.
The Group of Eight universities, which do the majority of university research, say they are dependent on international student revenue to fund their research programs.
“We cannot sustain a funding model which relies on foreign students to subsidise research, and that’s the crux of the issue,” said Group of Eight chief executive Vicki Thomson. “It’s not international education that’s an issue — it’s the fact that government has walked away from funding our universities and we now operate under a perverse and distorted funding model.”
She said that the Group of Eight universities, which source only 35 per cent of their revenue from government, were now effectively privately funded. “That must change,” Ms Thomson said.
Labor education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek blamed the Coalition for universities’ reliance on international students.
“The Liberals’ cuts to higher education and research and chaotic policy have put a lot of pressure on universities — including to increase international student intakes,” she said.
“For longer-term sustainability, it’s very important universities diversify the source countries for international students.”
Education Minister Dan Tehan did not respond directly to whether universities were too reliant on international students but said his focus had been to ensure the $35bn earned each year in education export revenue was “shared with rural and regional Australia”.
Tim Dodd is The Australian’s higher education editor.