Foreign funding fears

November 11, 2005

The Times Higher examines the reactions to the international guidelines on transborder higher education

Australian universities are concerned that there may be further cuts to their federal grants should foreign institutions demand government funding under international trade agreements.

As a signatory to the General Agreement on Trade in Services (Gats), the Australian Government could be forced to give subsidies to foreign universities offering courses to Australian students offshore, or to those onshore.

Critics of the Government's free-trade agreement with the US say grants to private institutions in Australia or their students constitute a subsidy in trade terminology. Under Gats, any funding available to domestic suppliers must be offered to foreigners.

Unions representing academics and students have warned that foreign institutions seeking government support on the same basis as that provided to Australian universities would inevitably lead to reduced funding of public institutions.

Their fears of an influx of foreign universities have partly been realised with the arrival in Adelaide next year of Carnegie Mellon University. Under an agreement with the South Australian Government, the private US institution will be the first foreign university to open a campus in Australia - and the first to receive a A$20 million (£8.35 million) state grant to aid its establishment.

Although foreign institutions are not eligible at present to receive government operating grants, their students will be able to borrow up to $50,000 each via the federal loans scheme. As Carnegie Mellon's application to be registered as a university has been approved by the state Government, its courses can be accredited in Australia and listed on the Australian Qualifications Framework. This also means that the university can enrol full fee-paying overseas students.

Carnegie Mellon's initial offerings include a master of science in IT and a master of science in public policy and management.

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