The British Council will launch a drive this month to attract more Australian students to study in Britain. It wants to boost the numbers by 70 per cent over the next three years to more than 3,000.
The move is part of an international campaign to recruit additional fee-paying students from other English-speaking countries.
Alan Barnes, director of the council's Education Counselling Service, said:
"The UK has had a very high dependence on the Far East market and over the past two years we have worked on developing a more expansive approach. Australia is one of a number of new markets we are going to tackle. We reckoned there was a market in Australia, went out there and did the research." Other targets include the Gulf states, Russia, Mexico and Vietnam.
British high commissioner Alex Allan and Australian author David Malouf, who taught in British universities, will officially launch the campaign in Sydney on February 16.
Thirteen British institutions are taking part in a multi-state recruiting tour of Australia in March, after the exhibitions in Malaysia and Singapore, where British universities have traditionally promoted themselves.
Bristol, Kent, North London, Nottingham, Oxford Brookes, Reading, Salford, and Nottingham Trent universities, UMIST, the London Institute, Goldsmiths College, Falmouth College of Arts and the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts will be offering places to Australian students at fees of Pounds 6,000-Pounds 8,000 a year. The British Council says this is highly competitive with the fees imposed by Australian universities.
"The message is, if you going to pay for study, why not go to a place with proven success, prestige and an international experience as part of the deal?" said Janet Russell, the ESC manager in Sydney.
Students who had completed a three-year pass degree could take an honours year in Britain. They could also complete a masters degree by coursework in one year in Britain, compared with two years or more in Australia.
"The shorter time commitment combined with the prestige attached to an international postgraduate award will be promoted as giving students a major career advantage over their study-at-home counterparts," Ms Russell said.
While the Russian, Mexican and Vietnamese markets are seen as longer term, ECS has high hopes of more rapid results from the Gulf. In April and May British universities will be marketed at exhibitions in Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Dubai and Oman.
Australian universities could lose 10 per cent of the local market for fee-paying students, but their reaction has so far been muted. One vice-chancellor said Australians could hardly complain given their enthusiastic recruiting of foreign fee-paying students in Europe, North America and Asia.
IDP Education Australia, the recruiting arm of Australia's universities, said the campaign complemented efforts to encourage students to undertake part of their degrees overseas. But a spokesman said that Britain was more than 40 per cent more expensive and that the British were "bathing in the halo effect of Oxbridge".