No university bailout for international students

Australia’s universities continue to cry poor over the reduction in international student numbers, signaling heavy financial and job losses:

While universities across Australia have different exposures to the coronavirus-induced downturn, revenue is estimated to drop by $3 billion this year collectively.

That could cause the loss of up to 21,000 jobs, with 7,000 estimated to be research-related academic positions.

The head of Universities Australia, Catriona Jackson, said the revenue hit would be felt for years.

“If you lose international students for this year, then you don’t have a second year … third year, the year after,” she said.

“Those international student markets may never recover.”

However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison showed little sympathy yesterday, refusing to bailout the sector:

[Morrison] raised doubts over universities’ claims that they faced multibillion-dollar losses because of the pandemic’s impact on international education.

“Sure, we’ll be working with the higher education sector, but I note 80 per cent of international students that come to Australia are here,” he said. “They are here. The way it’s talked about you’d think that they weren’t, but about 80 per cent are here.”

Morrison makes a good point. A 20% loss of international students is hardly disastrous given the monumental boom experienced over the past six years.

As shown in the next chart, international student enrolments at Australia’s universities soared by 212,000 (92%) in the six years to December 2019:

Moreover, annual tuition fees received from international students soared by $7.1 billion (143%) over the same six year period:

Thus, Australia’s universities have little justification for crying poor, given international student enrolments and fees remain at historically high levels.

Let’s be honest: most of the bounty from international students has gone into bloating universities’ administrations rather than improving teaching quality:

And this has seen student to teaching staff ratios soar:

Clearly, the universities have a lot of administrative fat to loose.

They should focus on improving entry and teaching standards, rather than building empires.

Leith van Onselen


  1. Straight from UQ’s list of sins:
    20 Nov 2019
    “What is UQ doing to mitigate financial risks?

    The University is in a sound financial position, with a consolidated surplus of $72.7m in 2018 – up from $47.6m in 2017. UQ takes a prudent approach to income from international students, investing it in infrastructure to benefit all students, rather than relying on it for recurrent expenditure and salaries.”

    • DominicMEMBER

      I wold imagine that being genuinely prudent would be socking some that windfall away for a rainy day.

    • Ronin8317MEMBER

      A psychopath running a corporation will first spend all the cash. When that runs out, borrow as much as possible. When even that runs out, get retrenched with a really fat severance package.

  2. our unis are like drug addicts … they need ever rising dosage … none cares about level of international students but only about the growth

    BTW if 80% are still here and an average degree is 3 years how many are going to be here next Feb if ScoMo doesn’t let new students in?

  3. DominicMEMBER

    “… has gone into bloating universities’ administrations …”


    There’s enough fat in the bureaucracy to make the public sector look a paragon of efficiency

    • rob barrattMEMBER

      I’m not sure we need any more paragons. There were over 930 federal government bodies in Canberra even back in 2013. I’ve got a pdf listing them. Add that to the State collection (yes – we really need 8 different driving licenses…) and we end up with more than 8X the number of civil servants per head of population as New Zealand. What a vvcking mess.

      • DominicMEMBER

        Honestly, it’s great being in Govt — almost no accountability and when you run out of money, owing to mismanagement or fraud, you tap the taxpayer up for more!

        It’s good to be king.

  4. The good thing about all those academic job losses is they’re all intelligent people so they’ll have no problem learning to code.

    • DominicMEMBER

      You’ll be surprised at the ‘market value’ of an academic outside of academia — it’s not much.

      It’s the pen-pushers in the admin cohort are not in a great place either if they get the ‘tap on the shoulder’

  5. What a business. Pay yourself well over a million, and only responsible for the upside of the market.

  6. There appears to be major fat to trim- speaking to a ‘international student enrollment consultant’ (Basically explained to me she used her Indian background as part of targeted international sales and recruitment for a big Sydney Uni)- $140k plus salary. Part of whole team of similar roles at this one Uni apparently.

    • Charles MartinMEMBER

      Sounds like one of thos bullschit jobs Gunna was referring to the other day.

      • Yep. Saw quite a few other internal marketing jobs and the like which look pretty wafty too in the last few years.

  7. So 80% are still here. I thought it was strongly suggested they return home, especially if unable to support themselves. The proliferation of student soup kitchens suggests many can’t.

    • So is the emerging problem that the alleged students can no longer earn the cash in their service jobs to pay for the said university course.

      OS Students should have to a) buy health and general insurance through the education department and b) provide a bond of say 25,000 dollars in case of need to return home settle claims of departed student.

      Just for a start

      • And pay fees up front. And have cash for living expenses. No working visas. We have too much unemployment anyway.
        And go home on failure or completion of course.

  8. happy valleyMEMBER

    “They should focus on improving entry and teaching standards, rather than building empires.”

    But, but LVO – surely, there can be no more deserving person than an overworked and underpaid VC?

  9. Pigs at the trough without any worry they will be bacon soon. Cut international students, cut staff and cut those useless made-up courses

  10. “the loss of up to 21,000 jobs, with 7,000 estimated to be research-related academic positions”
    In other words, the tuition fees were being used to hire people who were not actually doing any teaching.

    • You just nailed the whole thing right there. Mate who would know told me Aus unis lose money on every research contract they accept. So that gap is filled with low-cost high-fees students from Asia, who get working rights to keep property prices high. What an equation.

  11. Maybe they should focus on learning to draw tables with data that make sense before enrolling more students, someone in the dept of edu is an idiot

  12. gibber_blotMEMBER

    Wake up, MB. Those international students who are due to start in July are NOT in the country. For a 2-year masters degree, that accounts for 1/4 of international students; not including the other 20% who are stuck in China.

  13. 80% are here ???? HOW are 80% here with the borders closed. Did they not return home at the end of last year. Do they arrive then never leave ?? WTF seriously how are they here now with the borders closed ?

    • Most likely they never left. They would have worked over the summer break to save for their tuition fees.

    • gibber_blotMEMBER

      Why is it a surprise that people stay over the summer to keep their jobs or do a summer subject rather than pay for expensive airfares home?