International Education in Australia (more valuable than tourism)

This post continues the series on international students with an investigation into Australia. I lay out the current situation in terms of enrollment and dollars. Then, I report on the government’s attempts to crack down on unscrupulous schools. This is followed by the results of a study on the academic strength of international students at major research universities.

How many? How much?
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, international students brought AUD 13.7 billion (USD 8.9 billion)—outstripping tourism by a full AUD $1.7 billion. This huge contribution comes mostly from higher education (63%), but vocational schools (18%) are experiencing huge growth. The fees paid by international students make up, on average, 15% of college budgets.

One reason that has been cited for this extraordinary growth is the Australian dollar. The AUD has fallen agains the USD, making study in Australia more affordable than study in the U.S. In addition, the Indian Rupee has fallen sharply against the USD, but has risen against the AUD, making Australia particularly attractive to Indian students.

Some Schools Taking Advantage of Students
The demand among international students for vocational education has skyrocketed, leading to a dramatic increase in the number of trade colleges. In addition to reputable schools helping educate students, there is a growing number of institutions who, according to The Age, engage in cash-for-certificate schemes. In October, the Australian government closed one such college and put another 40 on suspension. The sheer number of institutions, however, make enforcing existing rules difficult. The Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority, for example, admits the existence of “dodgy providers” and cites lack of staff and resources as a reason more are not sanctioned. Finally, at the end of October, the Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, announced his intention to toughen rules on student agencies that are also exploiting students with visa promises and descriptions of Australia that are simply untrue.

Major Universities Defend Themselves
The abuse of the Australian system by some institutions and college dependence on their fees have made all international students an easy target for criticism. To counter the claim that international students are recruited only as sources of money, a group of major research universities conducted a study on the academic performance of their international students.

The results show that international students at these universities are completing their coursework with the same degree of success as native Australians. These are powerful data, because they show that the most prestigous Australian universities are keeping their standards high and are recruiting based on academic merit, not financial clout.
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