27 Apr Fact check: Do international students take the places of local students?
There are now more international students in Australia than ever before, but are they taking the places of local students? Anton Crace checks the facts.
As the number of international students in Australia grows, they are becoming an increasingly visible part of the Australian community. But as those numbers grow, so do concerns that international students are taking places from locals at our education institutes and universities.
In his maiden speech in August 2018, Senator Fraser Anning called for a drastic reduction in the number of student visas issued each year, which he said:
“[Would] create more university places for Australians, whose parents have actually paid for the universities with their taxes in the first place.”
But how are international and domestic students linked, and are locals losing out to their foreign counterparts?
By the numbers
International education is Australia’s fourth largest export behind coal, iron ore and natural gas, and the country hosted almost 700,000 international students in 2018. This includes students across all levels of education, from primary school all the way through to higher education and beyond.
Three-quarters of international students are at a post-secondary level, which includes universities, TAFEs and other private vocational and higher education providers.
In 2017, there were almost 350,000 international higher education enrollments. Local students, meanwhile, accounted for 1.1 million higher education enrolments for the same year.
Within the vocational sector, the difference was even higher, with 4 million domestic and almost 220,000 international students.
International students do not have access to Australian government funding or subsidies. They are required to pay the full fee for their education – which can be as high as three or four times the amount for domestic students.
How do international students impact Australian places?
Australian students are primarily supported by the federal government through the Commonwealth Grants Scheme, which provides subsidies, and the HECS-HELP and FEE HELP loans scheme.
As Senator Anning correctly observed, contributions into these schemes come from taxpayers.
International students, however, do not have access to Australian government funding or subsidies. They are required to pay the full fee for their education – which can be as high as three or four times the amount for domestic students, depending on level of study.
Furthermore, international students (and their families) are required to have compulsory health insurance for the duration of their visa. This is to ensure they do not have any impact on the taxpayer for the duration of their studies.
International students are helping universities cover costs
Tuition fees paid by international students account for around 20 per cent ($6.2 billion) of total revenue generated by universities – up from around 16 per cent ($4.1 billion) in 2012.
At the same time, collective operational costs also increased by $5.3 billion to $28.6 billion.
While commonwealth funding increased, it hasn’t matched the growth of operational costs, and international students and other revenue streams have been needed to fill gaps.
Without the increase in international students and the revenue they generate, it’s likely universities would have entered deficit.
The number of Australian students undertaking tertiary education has also surpassed record levels every year for over a decade.
Australia is getting better educated, too
What often gets missed is the number of Australian students undertaking tertiary education has also surpassed record levels every year for over a decade.
From the 2006 census to 2016 census, the proportion of Australians with a post-secondary education (e.g. have completed studies at a TAFE, vocational education and training provider, or university, etc.) has increased to 46 per cent.
If there were concerns education providers had hit their physical capacity for educating students, it doesn’t appear to have materialised just yet.
Apples and oranges
Comparisons between local and international students can be problematic.
Several headlines have focused on the higher growth rate of international students, compared to locals, and the increased proportion of international students on campus.
In the five years leading up to 2017, the percentage growth rate of international students was twice that of locals. However, the actual numbers of locals grew more: 150,000 domestic to 106,000 international.
The proportion of international students in higher education has increased to 28.5 per cent, but using that figure comparatively gives the wrong impression that international students are ‘taking over’ campuses.
Unlike parliament, which has a set number of seats that must be filled, student numbers fluctuate. This means increases to a minority segment can have a larger impact on the overall proportion.
If a class has one international and three domestic students, internationals would represent one quarter of the student population. If that class increases to two international and four domestic students, the proportion of international students increases to a third – despite both domestic and overseas numbers growing the same amount.
International students are unable to access government funding and consequently aren’t competing with local students.
The number of both local and international students has increased over the past five years, it’s clear that internationals aren’t being preferenced over Australian citizens when it comes to gaining an education.
As costs rise and profit margins decrease, the financial impact of international students is becoming more and more important for Australian education providers and is helping them to provide a quality education to all students.
There are now more international students in Australia than ever before. Rather than impeding Australians’ ability to undertake an education, international students are helping them do so.
Anton Crace is an award-winning journalist and is the Asia Pacific Editor for the PIE News.