Tough lessons? Hopefully!
In response to years of falling government funding levels, Australian universities have relentlessly sought to diversify their funding bases. They have recruited heavily for full-fee-paying students, particularly by expanding and marketing their offering of postgraduate courses. These efforts have been rewarded, as Australian workers have sought new skills to increase their competitive advantage in a changing labour market.
Australian universities have become a global leader in recruiting overseas students during recent years. More recently, however, these rosy impressions of Australia have been tainted. A spate of violent attacks on Indian students received substantial international press coverage in 2009, particularly in India, which is the second largest source of international enrolments in Australian tertiary institutions. The consequences of this have been dramatic for the Australian education sector: Indian enrolments in Australian institutions fell 10.6% in 2009 and 35.6% in 2010.
This statistic also reflects reactions to recent changes in Australia’s visa rules. Australia’s General Skilled Migration program was changed in 2010, in an effort to break the link between obtaining a visa to study in Australia and attaining permanent residency. While this has made a more marked impression on the vocational training sector, where many operators have been forced to close, it is cause for concern within the tertiary education sector. It highlights the degree to which the sector can be vulnerable to regulatory change, and the political currents that drive it. Coupled with a stronger Australian dollar, and an increasingly competitive international education marketplace, this is likely to drive down international enrolments in the short term.