A story in this morning’s Australian drew attention to this Access Economics report on international students, commissioned by the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, the largest peak body for private education providers.
Because they don’t take into account the paid work overseas students do while living in Australia, I think the Access report overstates their contribution to export earnings and understates their contribution to GDP. But the report does do a service in pointing to the consequences for the economy of a decline in demand from overseas students.
Of more pressing concern for those of us attending or employed by universities is what happens to us if the overseas student market goes into serious decline. Universities depend on international students for their survival.
Julia Gillard as Education Minister is also relying on a strong international student market. Her current policy approach is actually high-stakes politics, with her policies putting the higher education system at significant risk.
She has already ruled out the most obvious way to improve university revenue, which is to increase charges for domestic students. The signs are that the budget will provide nothing of consequence on recurrent funding for existing students in 2010, and indeed it is more likely that it will impose another real cut (which applies to student contributions as well, which operate under the same indexation system). Universities have already taken a big hit on investment earnings.
So it is conceivable that in 2010, while university costs continue to rise, the two main revenue sources will be shrinking and a third revenue stream will already have been lost. For institutions on tight margins already, this is a potentially disastrous scenario. While Gillard can be allocated no blame for investment earnings or international students, her ideological opposition to tuition fee deregulation is a huge risk factor for universities, and her own legacy as Minister.