It is reported there are currently 300000 university students from outside Australia studying in our nation's universities.
This number of students is larger than the population of the greater Wollongong area, from Helensburgh down the coast to Shell Cove. Wollongong is ranked as the tenth largest conurbation in Australia.
These students pay full fees, do not get subsidised public transport in most cities but do contribute to the local economic areas in spending for accommodation, food and daily amenities. Several universities in the capital cities have a significant number of such students, like from China, India and south-east Asia.
Do such International students socially mix with their local fellow students and vice-versa? Many are allowed to work for a capped ceiling number of hours, especially in retail outlets. Graduates of Australian universities are encouraged with bridging visas to continue staying on if they can find related work.
International students are a critical part of the process of Immigration, property boom and skilled inflows affecting the socio- economic parameters in contemporary Australia. They are part of the spectrum of labour and knowledge supply chain that also involves tourist visa over stayers, 457 visa holders and the underground economy.
With this waterfall of cash revenue for universities, is there a big risk of the quality compromised in the delivery of teaching and social support for students as customers? Are students increasingly seen as supplying funds to be used more by universities for research and securing commercial opportunities?
Universities do not pay tax in Australia - but the threatened funding cuts from the Coalition Government in Canberra can still shake up budget restructuring imperatives for our higher tertiary institutions. Where are such cuts going to make an impact in the operations of our university sector? Administrative expenses have suffered cuts for many years - the next question is which other area is targeted for reduced spending and hence a deterioration in service and engagement levels.
Universities will increasingly wake up to competition for any cash cows they may have taken for granted for so many years. Alternative options in training, certification and accreditation can now challenge the traditional university route to a career. Employment prospects can be better if one does not go to university. Local students in Australia can also lower their risks for incurring a huge financial debt after graduation if they smartly choose other paths to what they really want to do after study.
Universities in Australia do realise that they are not the only ones milking the study and career dreams of foreign students and markets. The source markets are also developing their quality centres of learning. Other suppliers off shore are challenging the attractiveness of coming to Australia to study, but may not provide the captivating migration options.