The lack of a coherent strategy to market Australian education institutions in Asia is putting a Aus$3 billion-a-year (Pounds 1.2 million) export industry at risk, according federal government critics.
More than 200 universities, technical and further education colleges, schools and private English-language centres are marketing their wares in Asia.
But senior officials say that conflict between the overseas marketing arm of the Australian Vice Chancellors' Committee, IDP Education, and the Australian International Education Foundation is causing serious damage to Australia's image in Asia.
The federal government is expected to make a decision about the foundation's future and to come up with a coherent marketing strategy for overseas countries.
The AIEF was set up in 1994 with an initial grant by the former Labor government to market overseas all aspects of Australian education - schools, further education, universities and private English language colleges.
Although the vice chancellors originally held a majority of positions on the AIEF board, 32 of the 37 pulled out earlier this year in a dispute with the government over its insistence that the foundation become fully self-funding.
The foundation received a Aus$3 million supplementary grant from the government for the three years to 1998, with the Commonwealth putting in Aus$1 for every dollar raised from contributions.
Following their withdrawal, a directive was sent to the AIEF's ten Australian education centres in Asia ordering them to remove all material relating to the non-subscribing universities.
IDP general manager Bill Street described the situation as "messy" and says Australia is "not looking good overseas".
Tertiary education minister for Victoria, Phil Honeywood, called on his federal counterpart, David Kemp, to resolve the differences between IDP and the foundation and establish a "one-stop shop" to market university courses in Asia.
Mr Honeywood said: "He should bring the vice chancellors together and get agreement on a one-stop shop approach. We cannot have competing marketing authorities confusing foreign students and potential partners."
An estimated 150,000 foreign students will study in Australia this year - with 55,000 enrolled at university. They spent more than Aus$1.2 billion in education fees in 1996 and a further Aus$1.8 billion in living expenses. Their presence has resulted in the creation of more than 50,000 jobs.
But the economic crisis in Asia and unrestrained competition between institutions for students is threatening one of Australia's biggest income-generator.