AUSTRALIA: Overseas enrolments continue to rise

Despite the increasing value of the Australian dollar compared with other currencies, and widespread reporting across Asia of attacks on Indian students, the nation's universities continue to attract more foreign fee-paying students.

Figures published last week by the federal government agency, Australian Education International (AEI), show that more than 160,600 international students were undertaking higher education courses in February, a 13% increase on the 142,000 enrolled at the same time last year.

The total number of foreigners enrolled in universities, schools and vocational and English language colleges also rose, by 6%, to almost 390,000 in the 12 months to February.

More worrying for the institutions that have come to rely heavily on fees from foreigners is the fact that in the same period, the number of students beginning a course this year fell by nearly 3% to 98,000.

Yet universities managed to boost their commencements by 10%, bringing the total number of overseas newcomers on campus to 31,000.

China and India were the largest markets for both enrolments and commencements in all sectors. China accounted for 27% of total enrolments and 29% of commencements while India accounted for 17% and 9.4% respectively.

In the higher education sector, the two largest markets were also China, with almost 34% of enrolments and 39% commencements, and India, with 11% enrolments and 5.4% commencements.

The AEI report says management and commerce was the top broad field of education in higher education, accounting for nearly 48% of enrolments and 50% of commencements.

But it says the February data should be interpreted with caution as many commencements in the first half of any year are recorded in March.

Although the national picture of continuing growth in foreign higher education enrolments must have been of comfort to most vice-chancellors, those in charge of Victoria's eight universities would have found the figures depressing.

After a grim year in terms of the reputation of Victoria as a safe place to live for foreigners, and Indian students in particular, the AEI figures reveal foreign students are turning away from the state's universities.

Total commencements by overseas students were down 12% while Indian student numbers plummeted by a startling 40%, from 6,303 to 3,761. Enrolments by Malaysian students starting their university courses in the state also fell - by 32% compared with a national drop of 13% - while those from Korea fell by 13% against a national decline of 3%.

At the same time, enrolments by Indian students staying on in Victoria for multi-year courses increased by 4% to more than 26,500 while the biggest drop in their numbers occurred in the vocational colleges. This was almost certainly a result of much tighter restrictions on students gaining permanent residency.