Private schools demand quick return of international students

In 2016, the former Turnbull Government introduced a new visa class that enabled international students and their guardians access to Australian schools, along with the ability to buy property ahead of applying for permanent residency (see here, here and here).

At the time of introduction, I labelled this visa “one of the worst policies that I have ever seen”, because it would worsen already severe over-crowding across schools, make housing less affordable, and would add additional strains to economic and social infrastructure across Australia’s major cities.

Now Australia’s elite private schools are demanding the return of international students for the beginning of the 2021 schools year, claiming they face closures and cutbacks if travel bans are not lifted soon:

In their letter, the principals of 36 schools say the disruption to Victoria’s multibillion-dollar international student market this year poses an “immediate existential challenge” that has left many non-government schools without a “vital revenue stream”…

Some schools face potential closure and significant job losses, if international student enrolments do not recover, the principals say…

The letter also warned about broader challenges as more parents face financial pressures, saying “a decline in domestic enrolments because of COVID-19 will see many schools face immense immediate financial challenges, with closures likely for some”…

The group of principals says that if international programs do not survive, the jobs of academic and support staff are at immediate risk and there will be significant losses at English language schools and accommodation providers…

Signatories include the principals of Geelong Grammar, Melbourne Grammar, Methodist Ladies College, Brighton Grammar, St Catherine’s School and Lauriston Girls’ School.

It’s hard to take these claims seriously when government funding for independent schools has grown far quicker than public schools over the past decade, according to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority:

School fees have also grown at nearly twice the rate of inflation over the past decade:

And elite private schools have engaged in a spending “arms race”, as reported recently in the Saturday Paper:

Recent analysis by The Sydney Morning Herald revealed that among Sydney’s elite private schools, a billion dollars’ worth of projects are in the pipeline…

“My first response,” says Grattan Institute school education program director Peter Goss, “is, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money!’ ” His second response goes back to the intense competition between high-fee private schools. “It is hard for parents to understand which offer the best academic experience, so they are likely to choose based on what they can see, contributing to an arms race among the wealthiest schools,” he says.

Once upon a time these schools managed just fine educating locals without such extreme funding. Now they tell us that they are on the verge of collapse if denied the money that international students bring in. I call bullshit.

Private schools’ addiction to international students also risks undermining teaching standards, as we have witnessed across Australia’s university sector, in a bid to maximise enrolments and revenue from students with poor English-language proficiency.

You can easily imagine situations where teachers in our classrooms are required to pause repeatedly to explain concepts to non-English speaking students. Or, in the case of Chinese international students, be prohibited from teaching blacklisted western values or other topics sensitive to the Communist Party of China (e.g. Hong Kong, Tibet, or Taiwan).

Is this what Australia’s economy has been reduced to: flogging-off houses and residency to wealthy foreigners while dumbing down the education of our own children? Do we really want foreign political conflicts paralysing debate in our high schools as well?

The answer is obviously a resounding ‘no’.

Leith van Onselen
Latest posts by Leith van Onselen (see all)


  1. “In their letter, the principals of 36 schools say the disruption to Victoria’s multibillion-dollar international student market this year poses an “immediate existential challenge” that has left many non-government schools without a “vital revenue stream”…”

    One can just imagine the pillars of society who cobbled this together.

    Private schools attract wealthy immigrant who are here on the ‘wealthy immigrant visa’ in schools that also receive public funding.

    The solution is simple, remove the public funding and let them educate OS students. In the process let them pay their way charging fees as high as they like and tax their profits to go back into public education. After all, they are “private schools” making a killing via the immigration Ponzi scheme and crowding the infrastructure that the public paid for over generations – public transport, parks, sport facilities, hospitals.

    Let the private system also create private universities and charge what they like. Let a thousand private roses bloom.

    What these school principals are doing is the same that any exclusive rent seeker would do – privatise the profit and socialise the debt – and pass the risk to others for their business model.

    This isn’t normal – New Zealand, France, USA and many other counties don’t have a parasitic private system like ours which is actually a publicly subsidised scam for the elite.

  2. I wish I could identify the actual person who invented the Orwellian doublespeak of Gillard-Gonski “needs based and sector blind”. This vicious legislation condemned us to at least another generation of a divisive and destructive two-tier schooling system with declining equity and outcomes. No wonder Prince Charles’ old school doesn’t do irony.

  3. Well said, LVO.

    Meanwhile, Aussie kids’ literacy and numeracy levels have been sliding down significantly in comparison to other countries.

    These schools should be focused on educating citizens first and foremost. The whole scheme was all all about a new entry for Chinese to buy Australian real estate and get residency using their child as a vehicle to do so.

    If private schools are so reliant on the Chinese RMB, they can burn. In any other case, they can increase their fees, improve their quality of teaching, stop paying their senior administrators CEO salaries and stop whinging about foreign students.

    • The primary reason that Aussie school kids are going backwards on international literacy rankings is because of the massive percentage of that demographic who come from non-English speaking backgrounds.

    • The dumber is speaking, reading writing & counting Aussie children are the better as they will have little to zero comprehension/ understanding of how severely shafted they have been when in next few decades Aussie underling generation will answer your their Chineese govt & bosses & lodgee superiors:)

  4. The scheme was a typical example of all Australian government decisions. A win, win for all “relevant stakeholders” Noting that the Australian citizen has no longer been a relevant stakeholder for decades now.

    In this case, Chinese get residency and all the benefits from that and can buy Australian RE. Private schools get a lavish revenue stream. Highrise Harry is satisfied along with the Property Council, etc. Win, win for all. Except citizens, but never mind them, they don’t offer further lazy jobs with grand salaries after public life. Relevant stakeholders on the other hand…

    All Australian government decisions must pass the A.R.S.E.P.F.E.C.A.L test prior to Ministerial approval. All Relevant Stakeholders Each Prosper, Forgetting the Expense of Citizens Always Losing. And this one is a shining example.

    • The last bastion is the pesky UMAT/GAMSAT tests to get into an Australian Medical school which, at least for now, are heavily discriminatory against anyone who does not speak english as a first language. I am sure that will be the next thing to go …

  5. reusachtigeMEMBER

    It is important to our economy that we start letting people back into the country immediately. The virus has proven itself to be mostly a nothingburger especially now and almost certainly in good healthy kids. Keeping borders closed is destructive to our society and will cause extreme pain.

  6. happy valleyMEMBER

    ” … along with the ability to buy property ahead of applying for permanent residency… ”

    Just another politician selling out on the people – standard operating practice per a politician’s “bible”?

  7. I have kids at a private school in Melbourne and I’m pretty happy about the stream of overseas kids drying up. I know there are a lot of other parents that will be happy about it too. These schools have basically been divided into two halves with large numbers of Chinese speaking kids forming their own groups and little interaction occurring between the two. I know of other parents who have demanded the principal reduce the Chinese intake, and I know of parents who have removed their kids because of the very high levels of Chinese students in the school. I have quietly looked around at a few different schools to see if I can find one with fewer Chinese students for my kids to go too.
    The girls schools in particular are struggling to attract enough locals (largely because not enough families can actually afford to live in the areas these schools are located in any more). You can tell those which are because they are spending large amounts on advertising. I suspect some of them actually do face an existential challenge here, but some closure and consolidation wouldn’t be the end of the world.

    • MountainGuinMEMBER

      Its not just private schools. I have family in a melb primary school, a lot of young kids with zero English which means the teachers spend huge amounts of time with them, so the English speaking kids get little attention and the non speakers still struggle as that’s huge hurdle to get over especially if the parents can’t or don’t speak English at home.
      So a big impact on everyone.

    • Arthur Schopenhauer

      The local Girls Grammar is $36,000 per year per kid. With a big mortgage, even the average medical specialist is going to struggle.
      How is it, that for most of the history of Australia these schools got along just fine without overseas students?

      • Fee increases over the years so far about inflation as to put even the private health funds to shame. It was pricey 30 years ago but nothing like this.

        Like pretty much everything in Australia, sold on a dishonest promise that paying more = Timmy/Astrid has a better life/gets ahead

        Just ask up and down Sydney’s North Shore and you will find out that it was all just a gateway to party drugs/anti social personality (boys)/borderline personality (girls).

        A few hiccups during the GFC but essentially enough parents (in addition to the medical specialists) tapped into RE gains and/or jobs associated with them to continue shelling out these kinds of amounts. Then came COVID.

        • Can I go broad brush and stereotype with no evidence too?
          Do I send my kids to the local public school so they can finish unable to read or write or do maths. And boys (straight to jail) or girls (to the maternity unit before age 20). Or is this the wrong blog for this comment?

      • In Brighton (and elsewhere) folks have multiple kids in public school, two high-end euro leases, 5m in mortgage debt on their PPOR, beach house and investment rentals. Going to end well for everyone?

        I’m with Bent Hunt of Epsilon Theory – BITFD! (Burn It The Fuc<k Down!)

    • Not to poor cold water on the claims of Melbourne private schools but I have it on good authority the private girls school in my area is full for 2021 Grade 7 intake – will be the largest cohort in the school by some way.

    • Isn’t this just an example of a system creating real choice?
      You don’t want what this school offers, so you move along and find something that suits your needs and wants better.
      Someone else just says “perfect” that’s choice at work.

      • Brighton Grammar gets more $$ from the government per student than Brighton Secondary College (public). How the hell is this even possible, let alone acceptable?

        • Well, if that’s the case then it definitely wrong. Every local child should get an equal allocation. Except economic imports who should pay pay something between ‘a contribution‘ and full cost.

      • Display NameMEMBER

        And I would heartily agree IF they received no government funds. Private schools can be really private. Funded from fees and taxed if they make a profit. Maybe can they can have parts of their private schools funded with Gold and platinum sponsorships from McDonalds or SportsBet. They can sell their places to overseas students, and if they go bust then it is not the governments problem.

        • One of the problems with our current education model (coupled with our absurd economic model) is that the land on which an elite school sits is typically worth many many millions of dollars.
          We have a recent example of a new public school being built in Paramatta. The school building alone costs $250M and will open next year with less than 1000 students.
          That’s a capital expenditure of $250K per student. If you look at this as a business then you would certainly plan for at least $25K per student per year building-fund cost This is before we even employee one teacher or field one sports team. And this is the cost of public high school infrastructure in Paramatta now double that for your Inner city or North Shore elite school location.
          See what I mean the economics of our whole education sector is completely F’ed, it’s not just the private schools.

          • Display NameMEMBER

            Thats the whole point of public education. The cost is spread across the state. It will always be cheaper to build in the regions as land is and will be a fraction of the cost. Speaking specifically of Paramatta, look at Kings. 420 acres of prime land. Value each 1/4 acre at 500K and you have almost a billion just in land value. And that is for a school of how many? Just make private schools really private with no govt funds.

          • Thats the whole point of public education. The cost is spread across the state.
            you do understand that most of the population of NSW lives within the Newcastle Sydney Wollongong corridor, and that the whole region has very high land / construction costs. So averaging Sydney school costs with rural/ regional NSW costs really doesn’t make much difference.
            Also your Kings school example highlights exactly what I’m saying, with respect to the complexity of the whole Private school funding dilemma. If Kings closed and the public school system had to build another public school for the suburb, it would cost far more per year per student, then even Kings charges.
            This is the economic stupidity created by absurdly high land / construction costs.

          • Display NameMEMBER

            If kings closed? A replacement school for the same number of children in a public system would take 1/4 of the space. That leaves 750M to fund the build from the sale of the remaining land. The point is that the private schools are outlandishly lavish

          • Display NameMEMBER

            Let me amend my estimate. There is no way a public school for 1000 students any where in Sydney would or does use 100 acres, 1/4 of Kings current grounds. So lets narrow it to an eighth of what kings has, 50 acres , still a massive public school for anywhere in Sydney.

          • You are aware that whoever owns controls The Kings school is most unlikely to just gift you the 100 Acres that you say you need for your Public School.
            In all likelihood they’d sell that huge chunk of land to a developer and you would suddenly find that you need to accommodate twice the number of high school students in the region, that you originally planned for.
            So 100 acres at $0.5M/1/4 acre = $200M and you haven’t even began the school building construction.

          • Display NameMEMBER

            You are missing the point. If we withdraw public funds from these absurdly over endowed schools, their attendance is going to drop to the point where pretty much *no-one* can afford the fees that will have to increase from ridiculous to stratospheric. At that point they can start to shed assets. Simple as that. Wont want to, but they will need to to survive.

            Education facilities should be treated as a public good. Not a balance sheet asset. That is not to say we throw good money after bad.

            I would suspect in the coming recession, because it has not started yet, Sydney land prices might fall quite significantly.

      • Not really. I couldn’t find a school that wasn’t on the Chinese student gravy train. What I really want is a decent single-sex public school within walking distance of my house, but such a choice is not offered to me. When I bought my house it was in the zone of a high school that met that requirement, but thanks to the population ponzi they shrank the boundary of that zone and I no longer have the choice.

        • I’m lost.
          You want to send your girls to an all girls local public high schools but you don’t like the racial mix at that school.
          Have I got this right?
          You also don’t want to move home to a different school district and don’t want a school that’s not within walking distance.
          I wish you luck finding something suitable but keep in mind that sometimes we create our own luck when we broaden our search criteria.

          • I’ve given up finding something suitable. What I want for my kids doesn’t exist in Australia. I’ve already given the state govt a huge stamp duty payment so I’m not prepared to move house again and re-donate. I suspect that if the school my kids are at survives, the racial mix may improve over a few years. I suspect that even if the borders open, China won’t let people come here the way they have for the last decade.
            My wife has commented recently that she didn’t used to be racist, but she feels like racism is being forced upon her.

  8. Totes BeWokeMEMBER

    The old argument to justify private school funding went ….”if government don’t subsidise private students, government will pay more if they’re forced into the public system”…

    Fair enough. Solid argument.

    Not so in big Australia, where they’re not Australian students to be responsible for.

    It’s just another scam to take money from the plebs and hand it to the elites. One of the best scams given it relatively reduces private school fees, increases government spending for the elites, and inflates house prices in the right places.

    Turnbull and Lucy were such great champions of the plebs. I heard so many times…”He really should have been a Labor MP”…lol.

    • RobotSenseiMEMBER

      Same argument has been made about private health for years, but now that’s caught in a death spiral. Would the same truly happen to private education? Kids need to go to school, adults can pick and choose when they attend hospital (and hopefully never).

  9. Providing secondary school education for wealthy foreigners is a highly profitable business, so why not let it continue to exist?
    What does it really change for the average Aussie kid?
    Most of the Chinese kids that’ll go to these schools have been at International schools since they were 2 or 3, If they don’t go to Australian schools then it’ll be some equally elite school in England or New England.
    So why not allow this sector of the education industry to prosper?
    You really do need to lighten up and stop wanting to regulate every aspect of life.

    • Totes BeWokeMEMBER

      “then it’ll be some equally elite school in England or New England”


      “highly profitable business”

      For who? It’s an elites rort just like absolutely everything else in Australia post big Australia Labor.

    • Gosh, are you deliberately obtuse? what’s in it for tax-paying citizens? A foreign invasion and billions of taxpayer dough given to these schools instead of used for us

      • I don’t believe that I have ever said that Private schools should receive public funding to support their International student intake.
        The fact that our private schools receive any Government money is a bit strange but understandable given the history of the secondary school education sector in Australia and the disproportionate number of Politicians with ties to elite private schools.
        Personally I’d be happy if all Australian private schools were 100% funded by school fees, unfortunately that would somewhat impact the demographic that had access to these so called Elite schools. There’s no good solution to this particular problem.

    • Maybe if there was a little more honesty it might help. Those schools deliberately advertise with photos of bonnie blonde Australian kids because that’s what’s important to the Chinese buyers. And then it looks like they’re duped. These private schools should offer scholarships to the whitey kids as they need them for their business model.

    • So now the CCP are using German names. Why don’t you call yourself David Edwards, or Humphrey Fitzsimmons, or Bogart, or something?

    • That’s right. Let them be private and charge what they want. Remove public funding, tax them on their profits and tax them on their land value – job done. Let them really go for it and show us all what private education is all about. Go for private universities and kit them out with solid gold toilets for all I care. Just don’t subsidise private businesses that can’t stand on their own two feet – or they are not private businesses. You can’t have this both ways.

  10. Totes BeWokeMEMBER

    “while dumbing down the education of our own children?”

    The riots should have started 15 years ago when the SMH headline was….”99.5 TER, and can’t get into medicine”.

    Dumbest country in the world. Most complacent soft, spoiled rotten citizens of the world are going to find out what we’ve watched the elites destroy.

  11. Display NameMEMBER

    Wherever you look its BS unsustainable business models; Schools, Universities, Building, real-estate, banking. That I should tag Schools or Unis as a business is well part of the problem. And these are models sustained by government policy. Not just grown through cracks in legislation. These models are aided, abetted and often funded by government.

    And the government is probably the worst offender. Selling any asset or service to their mates for a song, outsourcing many functions to private companies (politically associated of course), parachuting mates into senior public service and regulatory positions so public institutions no longer function as they were intended. No accountability anywhere now. It is always someone else’s fault.

    The latest offense is the 30M for Badgerys Creek airport. All from a 60K donation to the LNP. No one is accountable. And the LNP are filthy cheap. Lets say they financial beneficiaries donated 60K a year for 10 years thats still a 26.4M over payment for a 600K outlay. And I am sure we have only seen the tip of the iceberg in NSW in relation to icare. Not to mention Barilaro. A corrupt grub who should not be in parliament.

  12. A friend of mine said there were whole classrooms of Chinese kids at the private school she worked at. Learning Christianity from the Anglicans no doubt.

  13. Oh man, first the universities and now private schools. And the damn things are tax-payer funded anyway. I still don’t get that — how many swimming pools do they need?

  14. Just when you think they (the politicians and their mates) could not sell out this country any further…. they go ahead and surprise you.
    The elite of this country are so short sighted that they think they can forever insulate and protect themselves from the f*ckery they unleash upon Australians.