Australians ‘recognise importance’ of international students

New poll contradicts survey suggestion that locals want numbers capped

March 17, 2019
Overseas students
Source: Getty

Four in five Australians believe that international students are important to the country’s economy, according to polling commissioned by universities’ representative body.

The survey of 1,500 people, by Melbourne company JWS Research, found that 81 per cent of respondents thought that overseas students contributed to Australia’s bottom line.

The figure grew to 85 per cent after respondents had been given specifics about the revenue flows and job creation attributable to international education. Almost three in five deemed foreign students’ financial contribution “very” or “vitally” important.

Universities Australia, which sponsored the survey, said an “overwhelming majority” of citizens recognised the importance of international students. “The income they bring into Australia supports local jobs, wages and living standards right across the country,” said chief executive Catriona Jackson.

“Australians also benefit from the personal, cultural, diplomatic and trade ties forged when students from across the globe spend their formative years here. When these students return home – as 85 per cent do – they join a global network of alumni with deep understanding and lifelong affection for Australia.”

The results provide a counterpoint to the outcomes of polling commissioned by UNSW Sydney in February. More than half of the 1,600-odd respondents said foreign enrolments should be limited.

People without tertiary qualifications proved particularly likely to favour a government crackdown, as did those under 35.

The findings pose a potential political problem for universities, which – confronted with continuing amid government funding cutbacks – are becoming increasingly reliant on foreign tuition fees to bankroll their research and infrastructure.

International education generated A$34.9 billion (£18.7 billion) for the country last year, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures. Universities attract a large share of the revenue because they host many of the students and generally offer the most expensive courses.

Australia boasted almost 880,000 foreign enrolments last year, about 400,000 of them in higher education – where numbers rose by 14 per cent, compared with a 7 per cent increase across the other educational sectors.

Education department figures show that growth in English language enrolments stalled to less than 1 per cent last year. This is a worrying sign for universities, as many language college graduates move into degree programmes.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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