Unis lobbies split on PM’s idea to send international students to regional campuses

A week back Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it would be good if international students studied at universities outside Sydney and Melbourne – an idea straight out of the Leonid Brezhnev policy playbook (CMM September 11).

And now the idea is back, with Mr Morrison telling the Daily Telegraph newspaper yesterday (paywalled, sorry), “you’ve got regional universities who would love to have more of those students. I think we have got some levers to pull there.” The PM added, “when we have got more to say about that, we will.”

The Regional Universities Network loved the idea;

““International students studying at regional campuses are a boost to local economies through their expenditure, that of family and friends, and the payment of student fees” RUN chair, and VC of the University of the Sunshine Coast, Greg Hill said.

“But, most importantly, international students studying in the regions record high levels of satisfaction with their learning experience, a high level of acceptance into the local community, and are exposed to the attractions of an authentic Australian regional lifestyle. These include a lower cost of living and less congestion than in major cities,” he added.

However, Universities Australia counselled caution, with CEO Catriona Jackson, “urging the government to tread carefully to avoid policy mis-steps.  … These brilliant international students can choose to study anywhere in the world, so we need to ensure Australia is their destination of choice.”

The Group of Eight agreed; “we would caution against any heavy-handed approach to what is our third largest export sector, a generator of some 73,000 jobs from Go8 international students alone and a major contributor to the very fabric of our research unis. Our international students can choose to go anywhere – that they choose Australia is evidence of the high quality of our top ranked universities.” A point the Go8 VCs might have made in their conversation last night with Education Minister Dan Tehan.

It was left to the ever-diplomatic Phil Honeywood, Chief Executive Officer of the International Education Association of Australia to recognise a positive in the PM’s plan but also to point to a problem.

“The PM is probably not aware that most regional unis have long chosen to contract out many of their degree offerings to third party private colleges in the major cities. While this guarantees them a slice of the international student revenue pie, it ironically serves to exacerbate the very infrastructure issues that we now have pushback on. However, these unis are attracting international students to their regional campuses with niche courses i.e. marine biology at JCU Townsville campus. As increasing numbers of international students are driven by both part-time and, post study, full-time course related employment opportunities the challenge for our regional unis will be able to guarantee employment offerings in their regional communities. If the PM can provide a fix to these employability-pull factors then he might be onto a winner. But it is a big call at this stage!”


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