Busting the international education boom

Everybody knows it but nobody much says it, Australian higher education is fearfully exposed to any decline in demand from China. So, policy paladin Frank Larkins, sets out incontrovertible evidence in a new paper for the L H Martin Institute.

In the 15 years to 2017, he reports, the number of Chinese students in Australia increased from 17 400 to 133 600, growing from 14 per cent of total individuals enrolled in higher education to 38 per cent. Indian students doubled over the same period to 15 per cent.

But while the two biggest student markets have grown, numbers from Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and the United Kingdom were lower last year than in 2002.

“The vulnerability of higher education institutions to the dominance of students of two nationalities should be of concern for political, financial and academic reasons,” Professor Larkin warns.

The proportion of international students in the Australian system is stark in comparison with comparable countries. Only 13 per cent of UK university students are internationals from outside the EU, just 5 per cent (one million individuals) of students in the US are from other countries.

“It is timely that a broader discussion be held about the changing trends in the nationality distribution of international student enrolees in Australian universities. The outcomes have implications for Australian society beyond education, including economic and strategic security,” Professor Larkins writes.

For universities, the problem already exists. “This misalignment does raise important questions regarding the balance of the educational experience being provided to students by Australian universities,” he warns, before putting it plainly

“There are faculties in some universities where the majority of the students are from overseas, with more than half of one nationality. Most university students continue to express overall satisfaction with their university experience. International student satisfaction levels are lower than for their domestic counterparts. Demographic profile changes may accentuate concerns. Students do have concerns that the richness of the educational class experience is being compromised. There is a strong case for a more coordinated national response to the management of international student trends.”


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