More international students to head down under: report
Tertiary Education Minister Chris Bowen said Australia must plan ahead to accommodate the expected rise in international students. Photo: Jim Rice
The number of international students in Australia will rise by 30 per cent by 2020, according to a report that warns the nation must ensure it has the university infrastructure to support the increase.
The report by the International Education Advisory Council spells out 35 recommendations, including better marketing campaigns and measures to make students feel more welcome.
It says the sector has been through a well‑documented period of change and uncertainty resulting in a decline in onshore student numbers, but more students are on their way.
The report, released by Tertiary Education Minister Chris Bowen on the opening day of a higher education conference in Canberra, forecasts the number of students hosted by Australia will increase from 402,000 last year to 520,000 in 2020.
But the report also acknowledges that for Australia to maintain its share of the international student market, it would require an annual growth in enrolments of about 7 per cent - producing a 50 per cent increase on 2012 figures by 2020.
The report says such an increase would present infrastructure challenges and was unlikely to eventuate. The report estimates a growth rate of 5 per cent per year.
''While we acknowledge that such projections of likely outcomes are challenging, given the influence of external factors outside our control, the council's best estimate is that Australia can expect to be hosting an additional 117,000 international students by 2020 – a 30 per cent increase on today's figure,'' the report says.
The report says higher education projections ''take into account a decline in the total number of students anticipated in 2012 to 2013, due to the large 2009 cohort completing their courses of study, and falls in the number of commencements in recent years''.
But it says the increase in new visa grants this year is expected to result in a rise in enrolments after 2012.
A survey of Australia's universities found half expected modest growth in international students, 37 per cent expected to achieve significant growth and 14 per cent expected numbers to be maintained or slightly decrease.
The report says Australia's international education activities generate more than $15 billion of export income annually, supporting more than 100,000 jobs. About 80 per cent of international students in Australia come from Asia.
But International Education Advisory Council chairman Michael Chaney warns against complacency and calls for ''national leadership''.
''While Australia's international education sector is in good shape as a leading destination, it is on the cusp of embracing a changed global future with significant competitor challenges,'' he writes.
''Among these are rising costs, including the high value of the Australian dollar, and a new generation of students for whom a global career and mobility opportunities are major driving factors in their choice of study destination.''
Among the recommendations are the creation of a Ministerial Co-ordinating Council for International Education chaired by Mr Bowen.
It also calls for regulations to be refined, with providers required to establish processes that ensure international students maintain adequate English proficiency throughout their studies to prepare them for work experience and employment.
In a bid to make international students feel more welcome, the report said they should have access to the same transport concessions as domestic students.
A review of off-campus accommodation and measures to promote meaningful engagement between international students, domestic students and communities are also suggested.
The report also calls for incentives to develop partnerships between Australian and overseas institutions for the purpose of exchange of students and academics.
In the field of marketing, the report calls for a communications campaign to promote ''the many economic and cultural benefits that international education and students bring to Australia''.
Australia should also increase promotion of the Australian education sector in emerging regions, such as Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, the report says.
In a speech to the higher education conference on Wednesday, Mr Bowen said Australia's higher education sector had been relatively resilient in the face of challenges.
''Indeed, recent student visa data shows that offshore interest in studying in Australia is up,'' he said.
''In the six months to December 2012, there was a 27 per cent growth in higher education visas granted to offshore applicants, compared to the same period in 2011.''
Mr Bowen said the report would help the government draw up a five-year national strategy to support the quality and sustainability of international education.
He expected to accept most of the recommendations but said the increase in international student numbers would present a ''range of challenges'' including infrastructure and access to services.
Mr Bowen said the demand-driven university system responded to increases in student numbers, while international students paid a substantial amount of money to study.
He challenged Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to spell out a detailed higher education policy during an address to the conference on Thursday.