Universities Australia has used the latest national export figures to step up its warnings to Senators not to let through government plans for budget cuts.
The umbrella body highlighted recent figures published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which show national export earnings from education international students grew by 16 per cent to A$28.6 billion (£16.9 billion) in 2016-17.
Around two-thirds of that figure – which includes international student spending on tuition fees, accommodation, food and living expenses – is generated by universities, said Universities Australia.
Higher education institutions remain strongly opposed to the Liberal-led administration’s plans to cut sector funding by 2.5 per cent, slicing A$2.8 billion off campus budgets over four years, and to increase tuition fees by 7.5 per cent.
The government is relying on the support of crossbenchers to pass the plans in the Senate, where it does not have a majority. Senate crossbenchers appear unconvinced by the plans, based on their most recent indications.
Belinda Robinson, UA chief executive, said the export figures highlighted that cutting university funding would be “an act of economic self-harm for Australia”.
“Safeguarding the quality of our universities is absolutely essential to sustaining Australian jobs and living standards,” she added.
“The proposed funding cuts before the Senate would damage the quality of the education and research which attracts international students to Australia over other nations.”
There were 480,092 international students in Australia in March 2017 – 30 per cent from China, 11 per cent from India, and 4 per cent each from Malaysia, Vietnam and Nepal, UA said.
Simon Birmingham, the education minister, recently told Times Higher Education that he remained “hopeful” that the legislation would pass. “The government has demonstrated itself to be very pragmatic in its dealings with the Senate across a range of major policy reform issues and we will of course be pragmatic again in terms of hearing the concerns of the necessary Senate votes and weighing them up in terms of what is viable for us to get past or not,” Mr Birmingham said.