Oz expects language shakeout

February 20, 1998

Student recruitment efforts worldwide are suffering from crises in the Middle East and Asia

Australia's universities may be uncertain about what Asia's financial crisis will do to overseas student enrolments, but already the nation's English-language colleges have been hit badly.

It seems certain that several colleges of the 115 that have been established over the past 10 years to teach English to foreigners will be forced to close. The colleges, including many set up by universities, face a huge drop in expected enrolments - particularly from Korean students, who last year accounted for the largest number of overseas clients.

Last year, about 36,000 students arrived in Australia with visas that allowed them to undertake English-language studies. However, 25,000 tourists and young visitors on working holidays also enrolled in a college, taking advantage of the fact that they are allowed to study for up to 12 weeks while in the country.

Late last year, education minister David Kemp commissioned former Bond University vice-chancellor Raoul Mortley to investigate the likely impact of the financial crisis on Australia's Aus$3 billion-a-year overseas student industry.

His report says that many Asians combined studies with a holiday and that "anything that resembles discretionary expenditure, like a study holiday, is at risk of disappearing".

Professor Mortley believes that universities, which enrol more than a third of all foreign students, and schools will be less affected because Asians view a child's education as a "vitally important commitment" - one that they would be prepared to experience considerable hardship to keep. Moreover, an increase in the number of students from countries that have not been affected by the crisis, such as Vietnam and India, may also partly offset the expected slump.

It is likely to take more than four years for Asia's student market to stabilise, the report says. By then, it will be increasingly difficult to recruit in the region because of more competition from countries such as Britain and the US.

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