Chi­nese defy warn­ings and flock to Aussie unis

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - TIM DODD HIGHER ED­U­CA­TION EDI­TOR

Chi­nese stu­dents have de­fied un­spec­i­fied ‘‘safety’’ warn­ings from their gov­ern­ment amid fears of un­due Chi­nese in­flu­ence, flock­ing to Aus­tralia in larger num­bers this year than ever be­fore.

Of­fi­cial fig­ures to be re­leased to­day show 173,000 Chi­nese stu­dents en­rolled in Aus­tralian uni­ver­si­ties, col­leges and schools in the first two months of 2018, 18 per cent more than in the same pe­riod last year.

In to­tal, 542,000 stu­dents from more than 190 coun­tries have en­rolled in Aus­tralia so far this year, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est data. This is 13 per cent more than for the same pe­riod last year, in­di­cat­ing yet an­other boost is on the way for ed­u­ca­tion ex­ports, which were val­ued at $32.2 bil­lion in 2017.

Fed­eral Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Si­mon Birm­ing­ham said the new fig­ures showed Aus­tralia was “on track to con­tinue our record­break­ing run of growth in in­ter­na­tional ed­u­ca­tion”. He said ed­u­ca­tion ex­ports sup­ported about 130,000 jobs in tourism, re­tail and hos­pi­tal­ity, on top of those in uni­ver­si­ties, col­leges and

schools. The con­tin­ued growth in Chi­nese stu­dent num­bers is a re­lief to uni­ver­si­ties which feared po­lit­i­cal ten­sion be­tween the two coun­tries, as well as two of­fi­cial Chi­nese warn­ings to stu­dents about safety con­cerns in Aus­tralia, could turn them away.

The pres­tige Group of Eight uni­ver­si­ties are par­tic­u­larly re­liant on Chi­nese stu­dent fees to fund re­search pro­grams.

Group of Eight chief ex­ec­u­tive Vicki Thom­son said the con­tin­ued growth in stu­dent num­bers showed that “de­spite the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal rhetoric out­side of our sec­tor, in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, par­tic­u­larly those from China, con­tinue to see Aus­tralia, and im­por­tantly the Group of Eight, as a high-qual­ity des­ti­na­tion”.

But oth­ers point out that when the Chi­nese safety warn­ings were made in De­cem­ber and Fe­bru­ary, it was too late for stu­dents to with­draw from en­rol­ment and politi- cal ten­sion could still have reper­cus­sions down the track.

Fed­eral Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Si­mon Birm­ing­ham said the gov­ern­ment’s in­ter­na­tional ed­u­ca­tion strat­egy, which brought a “whole of gov­ern­ment” ap­proach to the sec­tor, was in­stru­men­tal in forg­ing the growth.

“We won’t make the same mis­takes as the pre­vi­ous La­bor gov­ern­ment with their er­ratic changes to stu­dent visas that took years for our in­ter­na­tional ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor to re­cover,” he said.

Stu­dent num­bers from other coun­tries also grew strongly in Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary. En­rol­ments from In­dia, the sec­ond­largest stu­dent source, grew 16 per cent to 63,000, while Nepal en­rol­ments went up an as­ton­ish­ing 57 per cent to 29,000 to make it the third-largest stu­dent source.

In­dus­try ob­servers say the chaos of the 2015 Nepal earth- quake has caused more Nepalese fam­i­lies to send their chil­dren to Aus­tralia for ed­u­ca­tion.

Stu­dent num­bers from Latin Amer­ica are also ris­ing strongly with Brazil up 26 per cent to 19,000 and Colom­bia up 29 per cent to 12,000.

In­ter­na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion of Aus­tralia CEO Phil Honey­wood said part of Aus­tralia’ suc­cess was due to other coun­tries tough­en­ing visa rules for stu­dents.

LYN­DON MECHIELSEN

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Si­mon Birm­ing­ham meets in­ter­na­tional stu­dents at Spring Hill in Bris­bane yes­ter­day

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