Aus­tralia’s pro­posed cap on over­seas en­rol­ments in ur­ban ar­eas ‘ab­so­lutely daft’

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - John.ross@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

Aus­tralia’s re­gional uni­ver­si­ties are push­ing for in­cen­tives rather than reg­u­la­tion to bol­ster their in­ter­na­tional en­rol­ments, say­ing that they would be the biggest losers if the gov­ern­ment tried to help them by cap­ping for­eign stu­dent num­bers in the cities.

In Septem­ber, the new prime min­is­ter, Scott Mor­ri­son, floated the idea of lim­it­ing over­seas en­rol­ments in ur­ban ar­eas as a way of steer­ing more stu­dents into the re­gions. But Adam Shoe­maker, the vicechan­cel­lor of South­ern Cross Uni­ver­sity, told the Re­gional Uni­ver­si­ties Net­work con­fer­ence at SCU’s Gold Coast cam­pus that reg­u­la­tion would not help.

“It’s not about forc­ing peo­ple to be­have in a cer­tain way – it’s all about choice,” Pro­fes­sor Shoe­maker told the con­fer­ence. “We are not propos­ing a Bonegilla Mi­grant Camp,” he added, in a ref­er­ence to a no­to­ri­ously iso­lated post-war refugee re­set­tle­ment fa­cil­ity.

Re­gional cam­puses were hit hard­est by the gov­ern­ment’s 2017 move to freeze teach­ing grants be­cause they have few other sources of rev­enue and they cater to ar­eas with low higher ed­u­ca­tion par­tic­i­pa­tion – sug­gest­ing that they have sub­stan­tial un­tapped de­mand.

Mak­ing mat­ters worse, they earn lit­tle from in­ter­na­tional tu­ition fees – Aus­tralian uni­ver­si­ties’ only grow­ing source of cash – with re­gional ar­eas host­ing just 3 per cent of the for­eign stu­dents in the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ment fig­ures.

How­ever, re­gional uni­ver­si­ties also have city branch cam­puses that at­tract big-spend­ing over­seas stu­dents. Jonathan Chew, an in­ter­na­tional ed­u­ca­tion ex­pert with the Nous Group con­sul­tancy, said that th­ese rel­a­tively small op­er­a­tions – rather than big ur­ban in­sti­tu­tions such as the uni­ver­si­ties of Syd­ney and New South Wales – would be

the first to lose stu­dents if the gov­ern­ment lim­ited visas for city study.

Five of the six RUN mem­ber in­sti­tu­tions have cam­puses or study hubs in Syd­ney, with four boast­ing out­posts in Mel­bourne and three in Bris­bane. Scott Bowman, the vicechan­cel­lor of Cen­tral Queens­land Uni­ver­sity, said that in­ter­na­tional stu­dents com­prised 48 per cent of stu­dents at his cam­pus in Bris­bane, about 65 per cent in Syd­ney and 85 per cent in Mel­bourne.

Pro­fes­sor Bowman said that Mr Mor­ri­son’s pro­posal to limit visas for city study was an “ab­so­lutely daft” way to treat Aus­tralia’s third­biggest ex­port in­dus­try.

“To say we’re go­ing to tinker with that and try to get peo­ple out into the bush – why isn’t he say­ing that about tourism? There’s too many peo­ple in Syd­ney look­ing at the bloody Har­bour Bridge; let’s get them all to go to Wagga Wagga?

“Our Chi­nese, In­dian and Nepalese stu­dents want to go where there are com­mu­ni­ties and they’re go­ing to feel sup­ported. We’re not com­pet­ing with Syd­ney – we’re com­pet­ing with Lon­don, Toronto and Auck­land.”

Other RUN vice-chan­cel­lors told the con­fer­ence that any at­tempt to co­erce in­ter­na­tional stu­dents to come to their uni­ver­si­ties would be counter-pro­duc­tive. They said that the best ap­proach was to high­light the en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits, low liv­ing costs and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in re­gional com­mu­ni­ties.

Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion has been told that Mr Mor­ri­son’s of­fice re­mains at­tracted to the pro­posal of cap­ping visas for ur­ban study. But Cab­i­net min­is­ters are try­ing to wa­ter the idea down, fear­ing that it would sab­o­tage ed­u­ca­tion ex­ports by mak­ing in­ter­na­tional stu­dents avoid Aus­tralia al­to­gether.

Louise Pratt, La­bor’s shadow as­sis­tant uni­ver­si­ties min­is­ter, said that in­ter­na­tional ed­u­ca­tion was “in­cred­i­bly sen­si­tive” to gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion, and that the gov­ern­ment’s first re­spon­si­bil­ity was to “do no harm” to the sec­tor.

Pro­fes­sor Shoe­maker said that merit-based schol­ar­ships, mod­elled on the bonded schol­ar­ships once avail­able to teach­ing stu­dents, could at­tract both do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional stu­dents to re­gional uni­ver­si­ties.

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