Foreign students enrolling in Australian universities enjoy lower living expenses and far lower fees than those in the UK or the US but about the same as students in Canada, according to research.
A study by national recruiting agencies Australian Education International and IDP Australia found that of the four main countries that attract foreign students, New Zealand is the cheapest. The research revealed that the cost of living in Australia is about 40 per cent less than in the UK or the US.
The joint AEI-IDP study examines the extent to which the cost of Australian higher education is globally competitive in terms of international student tuition fees and living expenses.
Comparing average annual tuition fees for students undertaking bachelors degrees, the researchers report that foreign students in the UK pay about 70 per cent more to undertake degrees in accounting, arts and education than those in Australia. UK fees for information technology and nursing are almost twice those charged by Australian universities, although US private institutions impose fees four times greater.
In the 13 fields of study compared, fees at UK universities range from a third to twice those imposed in Australia. Overall, fees in the UK are more than double those in New Zealand.
Apart from medicine, New Zealand's charges are all lower than those in Australia. While Canada offers seven courses that are cheaper than their equivalents in Australia.
The researchers also look at the total cost of courses. This includes the annual tuition fee and additional study charges, the duration of the course and the cost of living. It is 50 to 60 per cent more expensive for a foreign student in the UK to study for degrees in accounting, arts, computing, information technology, nursing and science than in Australia. Costs to study engineering, medicine and urban planning are roughly comparable.
In nearly all the degree courses compared, US universities charged fees that are double or triple those in the UK and higher again than those in Australia.
Foreign students now contribute an estimated A$4.4 billion (£1.6 billion) annually to the Australian economy. Their fees boost university coffers by more than A$1 billion.
Education department data indicates that overseas enrolments in Australian universities last year exceeded 112,000, comprising 15 per cent of the 726,500 student population.
The number is higher again in 2002 although exact figures are not yet known.