Australian universities earned almost A$800 million (Pounds 320 million) last year from fees paid by foreign students, who also spent another A$770 million on goods and services.
More than 84,000 overseas students took courses with Australian universities in 1999, although a record 26,600 of these were enrolled offshore - a 35 per cent rise on the previous year.
Higher education institutions have come to rely on income from foreign student fees. The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, which has the largest enrolment, earned A$64 million from fees in 1998 - 25 per cent of its total operating revenue. Perth's Curtin University of Technology generated more than A$60 million - 22 per cent of its income - from this source.
A report by the Federal Education Department's overseas marketing division, Australian Education International, says 158,000 foreign students were enrolled in Australian universities, technical colleges and schools in 1999 - a 7.3 per cent rise on 1998.
These students paid A$1.56 billion in fees and A$1.52 billion on goods and services - A$3.08 billion overall.
More than half were taking university courses, with 17 per cent of those studying offshore -up from 13.5 per cent the previous year.
Four out of five offshore students were studying in three Asian locations - Singapore (9,000 students), Hong Kong (8,000) and Malaysia (4,800 - with the majority based on a local campus and the others involved in distance-education programmes).
The AEI report notes that the overall rise in enrolments of foreign students reversed a 2.7 per cent decline in 1998 and continued the growth since universities were first allowed to charge full fees in the mid-1980s.
More significant, however, was the jump in new enrolments - an 11 per cent increase in onshore numbers and a dramatic 43 per cent rise in those offshore. The AEI said this was a better indicator of future trends than any overall change.
A report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development earlier this year noted that Australia, Britain, France, Germany and the United States take 80 per cent of the international university students studying in 29 OECD countries.
The US has the largest number, with 32 per cent of the total, followed by Britain, 16 per cent; Germany, 13 per cent; France, 11 per cent; and Australia with 8 per cent.
An AEI survey of foreign students who started a course this year found that almost 80 per cent listed Australia as their first choice, with the rest either Britain or the US.
In Australia, most overseas students (85 per cent) come from Asia. The proportion dropped marginally in 1999.
Singapore continues to be the leading provider of higher education students, followed by Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, China and India.
10 international newsThe Times HigherJjuly 21J2000 reuters