Plunging visa numbers threaten Australian universities

Visa applications from foreign students to study in Australian universities have dropped by 15,500, almost 12%, over the past 12 months, according to figures just released by the Department of Immigration.

As negotiations continue over whether the Labor or conservative parties will assume government following elections on 21 August, the National Tertiary Education Union has warned that the fall in applications threatens Australia’s A$18 billion (US$16.2 billion) education export earnings.

It also has the potential to undermine the financial viability of universities and other education providers that have become increasingly reliant on international student fee income, the union stated.

“This drop in international student visas applications clearly indicates Australia is becoming a less attractive study destination for international students,” said Matt McGowan, the union’s Victorian Division Secretary. He also added that the reasons for the fall are no doubt many and varied and include the damage caused to Australia’s reputation from the reporting of attacks on international students, stricter regulations to weed out less reputable providers and reductions to announced cuts in net immigration by both parties in the federal election.

McGowan said fees from international students were the second most important source of income for universities and, on average, accounted for 15% of their total earnings. For a number of universities, the fee income accounted for up to half their annual budgets. In other words, some of our universities and the jobs of our members at those universities are very vulnerable to any cuts in international student numbers.