British universities are losing foreign students to their Australian counterparts as Germans choose increasingly to go Down Under to study, improve their English and get a suntan into the bargain.
The number of German students that choose Australian universities for the hugely popular exchange year has doubled since 1997, the German ministry for education and research reports. On the other hand, the number of German students going to the UK fell by 10 per cent in 1998-99. Good weather aside, Gernot Gad from Germany's academic exchange service in Bonn said the student-friendly approach of Australian universities had attracted many.
"Australian universities are very strong and very active in recruitment. To help applicants in Germany, they have set up information centres that are very student-friendly. The consulates and embassies are helpful, and students often find it very easy to get in touch with the people they need.
"There's the Australia Centre for example. It was set up in 1995 by a consortium of six Australian universities with the University of Potsdam to promote academic, research and cultural links between the two countries."
Dr Gad, who heads the Asia-Pacific region at the exchange service, said the strategy was already paying dividends. "We have seen applications double over the past couple of years. The Olympics have raised the country's profile, and there are great freetime opportunities. But Australian universities are also well respected academically. They have teamed academic strength with flexibility. A lot of graduate students apply to study in Australia and they rarely have problems getting their qualifications recognised."
Dr Gad said that although England and the United States remained the top destinations for education exchanges, Australia's popularity is rising as German education authorities tell students to use the information centres, approach the Australian universities directly or ask at their home universities for help in setting up an exchange placement.
"We have lots of scholarships already in place. These range from short education exchanges where a whole class will go over for a few weeks to long-term post-graduate courses. What is particularly encouraging is that the whole spectrum of subjects is in demand. Australian universities are not just attracting students from one discipline but from subjects right across the board."
Government grants are available and any qualifications from Australian exams are recognised back in Germany. All students must take an English-language certificate before they are accepted.