Uni foreign students reliance questioned

Australian universities are too dependent on fees from foreign students, according to a new report.
Australian universities are too dependent on fees from foreign students, according to a new report.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has downplayed concerns Australian universities are relying too heavily on international students, putting them at risk of crumbling financially.

Analysis by the Centre for Independent Studies has looked at seven Australian universities which rely heavily on international students for revenue and financial growth.

In some lectures, almost nine out of 10 students are from overseas, the report says.

Per capita, Australia has more international students than any other nation at 25 per cent, with 10 per cent coming from China.

Any move by the Chinese government to impose currency controls or a drop in enrolments would endanger the institutions, the centre says.

The universities - Melbourne, Sydney, New South Wales, Adelaide, Queensland, Australian National University and the University of Technology Sydney - appear to be more dependent on fee-paying Chinese students than other universities in the English-speaking world.

Nearly one-quarter of Sydney University's 2017 revenue came from Chinese students.

"Even small percentage declines in Chinese student numbers could induce significant financial hardship," report author Salvatore Babones said.

"Large percentage declines could be catastrophic."

Mr Tehan says Australian universities are reaping more than $30 billion in export income from foreign students, creating about 240,000 jobs.

He also pointed to their combined net operating surplus of more than $900 million and assets of $22 billion.

"These are organisations which have set themselves up financially over many years and are balancing their financial responsibility incredibly well when it comes to foreign students," Mr Tehan told Sky News on Wednesday.

The minister will discuss the issue when he meets with vice chancellors in two weeks.

Meanwhile, the universities are also being taught how to beef up their cyber security to prevent further hacking breaches after ANU lost nearly 20 years' worth of personal data.

"As we know with cyber security, if you're standing still in this area you're going backwards. You've got to keep ahead of the game," the minister said.

Australian Associated Press