Australia's major overseas student recruiting agency is expanding its operations in China in an effort to counter an unexpected decline in enrolments.
IDP Education Australia signed an agreement with China's Ministry of Education that will enable Chinese students to take English-language studies at home.
IDP officials hope that the new university foundation studies programme will attract thousands of young Chinese as it will give them easier access to Australian universities.
Last month, the agency revealed that the number of foreign students applying for visas to study in Australia was down 10 per cent in the first half of the year compared with 2003.
As well as administering the foundation studies programme, IDP will provide counselling and application and enrolment services to students interested in studying in Australia. The agency will also manage the delivery of training programmes to government employees.
David Shi, director of IDP's China operations, said the Chinese Government wanted students to have access to high-quality English-language courses before going overseas to study.
Mr Shi said students who finished high school in China had no hope of achieving the necessary score on the International English Language Testing System, which is required to obtain an Australian visa.
"The plan is to locate the foundation programmes in universities across China," he said. "These will be operated by an Australian university with experience in providing these sorts of courses offshore. Students who complete the programme will have a direct pipeline to Australian higher education."