Australia is facing a huge expansion in the number of fee-paying foreign students seeking places over the next 15 years, according to a new survey.
The study predicts a five-fold increase in overseas enrolments, pushing the total number to more than 200,000 by 2010 and earning Australia an extra Aus$6 billion (Pounds 3 billion) a year.
The overseas marketing arm of the Australian Vice Chancellors' Committee, the International Development Programme, conducted the study. It says China, Iran, India and Indonesia are likely to become the largest sources of new students - pushing Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore out of the top three.
Other western countries, such as Britain, that are also in the marketplace for foreign fee-paying students, can take heart from the study's findings that within 15 years, 2.8 million students from around the world will be studying outside their own countries - more than half from Asia.
IDP executive officer Denis Blight told a conference in Brisbane that Australia was in a strong position to capture 7.5 per cent of this enormous global student market. But university administrators needed to begin preparing now for the demands the influx of new students would place on the higher education system.
"What we've looked at in the survey is demographic population growth, increases in per capita incomes and access rates in predicting the numbers likely to go abroad from overseas countries," Dr Blight said.
He warned university thinking would have to switch from stimulating demand to the supply side of the equation, as the proportion of foreign students on campus jumped from less than 8 per cent today to around 26 per cent in 2010.
To cope with the expansion, universities would have to:
* substantially increase the number of places for foreign students.
* establish partnerships with universities in New Zealand.
* develop links between universities and technical colleges to provide English language courses for students needing to upgrade their language skills.
* use information technology to develop a global university through strategic alliances.
New private universities and business colleges would need to be set up to meet some of the demand, Dr Blight said. There would also be the potential for overseas universities to set up campuses in Australia.
At present, half the foreign university students in Australia are undertaking business and economics degrees. Dr Blight said most new private universities would be in the liberal arts college style but there could also be niche markets for postgraduate universities, particularly in fields such as medicine.
Federal education minister Simon Crean, commenting on the study, said the challenge was to maintain their reputation for high quality education while making room for the extra places. Australian students must not be disadvantaged by the likely competition for places.