Australia wants to welcome more foreign students - minister
Source: Facebook/@RMITuniversity

Overdependence on fees. Attacks on academic freedom. The overarching reach of the Chinese Communist Party. These are the recent threats Australian universities are facing from accepting increasing numbers of foreign students every year.

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham downplayed these, however, saying last week there is “quite significant” room to enroll even more foreign students, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

While Birmingham acknowledged the “quite phenomenal” rise in foreign student numbers, he dismissed claims that this is proving risky to Australian universities’ finances and academia.

There’s been a 14 percent increase in applications to the country’s universities in the last six months of 2017, new data released last week showed. The number of student visas issued also rose by 7 percent.

The number of Nepalese applicants nearly doubled (46 percent) while the number of Indian applicants rose by 32 percent and Chinese applicants by 13 percent.

Charles Sturt University professor Clive Hamilton worries about this dependence on Chinese cash, which he says is “corroding the soul of our universities”.

It’s a concern shared by vice-chancellors, experts such as the Grattan Institute’s Andrew Norton, and even the NSW Auditor-General.

However, Birmingham told Fairfax Media last Friday: “Some who suggest that unis might be overly reliant on the current numbers of international students overlook the reality that just a few years ago, even 12 months ago, they had significantly fewer. They’ve managed to adjust their operations up.”

He stressed that the government wants”international student numbers stay high”.

“The growth potential that is still there in key markets, like China and India … is still quite significant,” he said. “For Australia, the number of students from a market like China is quite large, [but] from a Chinese student numbers perspective it’s still a fairly modest number.”

“The overall pie is growing and Australia’s challenge is to maintain our share – at least. I’m not cocky about our position – Australia has to continue to work hard to sell the positive fundamentals [but] nor do I share the pessimism of some.”

When asked about foreign graduates crowding the local job market, the minister said job seekers should not be worried about this.

The overwhelming majority of students go home after their studies but the others “will, like migrants before, make a big contribution to Australia as taxpayers”, Birmingham said.

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