Last month, Salvatore Babones – adjunct scholar at the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) and an associate professor at the University of Sydney – released arguably the most definitive assessment of Australia’s international student industry ever conducted.
In this study, Babones argued strongly that Australia’s universities have far too high a concentration of international students, which is badly degrading both entry and teaching standards, as well as placing universities at dire financial risk in the event that international student flows retrace.
Arguably the most stunning data presented by Babones was Figure 2 below, which shows that Australia has roughly 2.5 times the number of international students per capita than second-placed United Kingdom, and three times the number per capita of third-placed Canada:
Australia now hosts more international students than any other major country in the world, as depicted in Figure 2. Australia leads the world by taking in 26 international students for every one it sends abroad, a ratio more than twice that of its nearest competitor, the United States (which has 14 inbound students for every outbound one)…
Most Australian universities rely on international students for more than 20% of total enrolments, and all but two (the University of New England and Notre Dame) are above 10%.
In terms of actual EFTSL student hours generated, Australian universities are even more dependent on international students than the numbers reported in Figure 6 indicate, since 86.5% of international higher education students are enrolled full-time, compared to only 65.2% of domestic students.
Across the entire Australian higher education sector (including both universities and other providers), international students accounted for 28.5% of all students in 2017, but 30.4% of EFTSL.
Yesterday, Salvatore Babones tackled the international student issue again in an article published in the The Spectator Australia. Here, Babones again argued that Australia’s international student enrolments are far too high and should be roughly halved to meet best practice:
Addressing the National Press Club earlier this year in her role as chair of Universities Australia, Monash University vice-chancellor Margaret Gardner boasted that Australian universities have been ‘incredibly successful’ competitors in the international education marketplace…
Australia ranks third in the world in the number of international higher education students, trailing only the United States and the United Kingdom. Australia has more than twice as many as Canada, which has a population 50 per cent larger than Australia’s.
Measured on a per capita basis, Australia now hosts more international students than any other major country in the world. They make up 3.6 per cent of Australia’s total population, with international higher education students alone accounting for 1.5 per cent of Australia’s population.
At most of Australia’s universities, international students now account for more than 20 per cent of total enrollment. At Sydney, Melbourne, and ANU the figure is more than one-third. At the Sydney and Melbourne business schools, it’s more than two-thirds, with data not published for ANU.
No public university in the entire United States even comes close to these concentrations of international students. Only one, the University of California at San Diego, has more than half of the international student concentrations of Sydney, Melbourne, and ANU. If Australian public universities were included in an international student league table alongside American public universities, the Australians would fill all 20 slots at the top of the table and 31 of the top 33.
Which all raises the question: how much is too much?…
If the most successful American public universities are any guide, when it comes to international students, 10 per cent adds diversity to the student body, 15 per cent is the maximum reasonable level, and 20 per cent represents internationalisation gone wild. In Australia, the average level of international students across the entire university system is 26.7 per cent. By any reasonable standard, that’s too high.
Sadly, Salvatore Babones’ valid arguments will most certainly fall on deaf ears. Because slowing the flow of international students would place our universities’ entire business models at risk.
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