The costs of international students are never considered

Former Victorian Premier turned chancellor of Victoria University and chair of the International Education Advisory Council of Victoria, John Brumby, has penned a long-winded opinion piece in Fairfax defending the extreme concentration of international students at Australian universities and calling for policy makers to reinvigorate the industry.

Brumby’s key points are as follows:

  1. International education is Australia’s fourth largest export, despite the COVID-19 pandemic;
  2. Australia does not have an overconcentration of students from China. Australia’s share of education exports to China (31%) are less than its traded goods exports to China (48.8%). So “why is international education so often singled out as being ‘too reliant’ on China? … And why should we want to replace it?”.
  3. International students provide many broader economic benefits to Australia. They spend money here, they live here, they become permanent residents, they alleviate skills shortages, and they support 250,000 jobs.
  4. More than half of university research funding each year relies on international student fees.

John Brumby ends the article by stating that Australia would be making a grave mistake by trying to diversify education exports away from China:

Australia would be making a terrible mistake to discard old friends and markets in the name of ‘diversification’… let’s recognise that there are still many young Chinese people looking for a quality, affordable and safe place to study. Australia can offer just that. We should continue to do so.

Like all commentators and lobbyists in this space, John Brumby has only looked at the benefits of Australia’s international student trade while entirely ignoring the costs. This is not the way that public policy should operate.

Education exports grossly exaggerated

Brumby’s claim that international education is Australia’s fourth biggest export is grossly exaggerated. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) own data, goods and services expenditure accounted accounts for the majority (~60%) of total education exports, whereas fees paid by international students accounted for just over 40% of these exports:

These ‘exports’ are grossly overstated because they include expenditure paid for via income earned by students while working in Australia. According to survey data, around two-thirds of international students work while they study here, meaning that any subsequent expenditure is by definition not an actual ‘export’, but rather just economic activity.

By extension, John Brumby’s claim that international students support 250,000 jobs is also one-sided because it doesn’t account for the jobs that international students ‘take’. Given there were around 500,000 student visas on issue at the end of 2019, and around two-thirds of international students work while living in Australia, they very likely take more jobs than they create.

Australia’s concentration of international students too high

Australia’s absurd concentration of international students, and Chinese students in particular, was illustrated clearly by Professor Salvatore Babones’ seminal 2019 study entitled “The China Student Boom and the Risks It Poses to Australian Universities”.

This report showed that Australia’s concentration of international students was roughly 2.5 times the United Kingdom’s, three times Canada’s, and six times the United States’:

In a similar vein, Chinese students occupied around 11% of places at Australian universities – a concentration way above other nations’:

Sure, Australia’s concentration of commodity exports to China might be higher, but these do not involve actual Chinese living in Australia, nor CCP-run Confucius Institutes operating at Australian universities threatening our democratic values and freedom of speech.

Costs of international students ignored

The broader costs (negative externalities) of Australia’s extreme concentration of international students has been ignored entirely by John Brumby, including:

  • Erosion of entry and teaching standards at universities, as documented in 2019’s Four Corners report and elsewhere.
  • Negative impacts on the labour market given students are allowed to work. These students are vulnerable and tend to come here with little money. They are ground zero for wage underpayment and theft, and contribute to Australia’s chronically poor wages growth. They are a key part of Australia’s broader immigration story.
  • Erosion of freedom of speech: as witnessed at UQ with the Drew Pavlou affair. We’ve got 13 CCP-run Confucius Institutes operating at Australia’s universities.

International students have become Australia’s major funnel to our immigration program. Many come here primarily for work rights and/or permanent residency, rather than to obtain an education. In turn, Australia’s universities have basically become ‘middle-men’ to the immigration system, behaving more like migration agents and degree factories to maximise student fees. They’ve lowered entry standards to maximise student numbers. Cheating is rife. There’s immense pressure on staff to pass these students. And the net result is a lower quality system.

When one considers the costs associated with the international student trade, the notion of an international student ‘boom’ becomes very questionable.

How to fix the international education system

Australia’s international education system could be improved by targeting a smaller intake of higher quality students via:

  1. Raising entry standards (particularly English-language proficiency);
  2. Raising financial requirements needed to enter Australia; and
  3. Removing the link between studying, work rights and permanent residency.

These reforms would lift student quality, would raise export revenues per student, and would lower enrolment numbers to sensible and sustainable levels that are more in line with international norms.

They would also help to improve teaching standards and the experience for domestic students, which should be our universities’ number one priority.

We must restore Australia’s universities back to being about ‘higher learning’ rather than ‘higher earning’.

Unconventional Economist
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  1. His claim that “Australia would be making a terrible mistake to discard old friends and markets in the name of ‘diversification’… ” gets it all *rse about face as usual with spruikers, Australia is only considering diversification as the CCP has made it clear they intend to reduce Chinese students coming here! As MB has said previously, this was always going to happen, even without aggressive CCP action against Aussies as their demographics of students already falling and will continue falling, they were never going ho accept their shiny new Uni’s being half full (or filled with those that didn’t get a good schooling in China’s provinces) while students went overseas

  2. Education isnt an export.

    if the Students leave the country after the education then Knowledge and skills are the export. If they dont leave then nothing is exported….

  3. Brumby aptly named Trojan whore horse / old nag / tired mare braying out his a$$ for unihousing dollar:) Incredible how low sons of Mary will bend the knee to their masters voice.

  4. If you’re not happy that international students (and their partners) get work rights, email your MP as well as Fyyaz Shanoor who is responsible for setting international education policy – [email protected]

    Fyyaz believes that even though student visa holders need to prove they have enough money to support themselves for the duration of study, that it is only because of potential ‘financial hardship’ that they are given work rights – rather than work rights being an incentive to study here.

  5. Where’s the figures on student fees and associated costs paid for (or repaid) with the money earned in Australia through work rights?

    What about the figures on money earned here to be sent offshore through remittance?

  6. You’ve missed two major costs :

    -The cost of infrastructure for a student population at least twice the size of Canberra, paid for by taxpayers, and the upward pressure on rents due to demand for rentals exceeding supply.

  7. Can we get a more detailed breakdown of how our trade surplus is going gang busters but we have aparently lost our biggest export?

    Feb article in abs stats shows services exports in the toilet but every thing else has picked up..
    If education was such a critical part of our economic health we would surely see it in the stats by now.
    If tourism is included in the services exports, how much of the loss is tourism versus higher education?
    Maybe all those 250k degree factory employees can go work in the new farming revolution.. Or is plantation life only for imported labour or people without an arts degree?
    For some reason we think it is fine to tell blue collar works they need to learn to code but not the large numbers of people employed in the higher education field, many of whom are casual teachers aides and other roles taken in lieu of leaving school and working in their chosen field

    • They aren’t an export – rather a gift in the form of new consumers and lower paid staff for the elite and donors.

      It only makes economic sense from the viewpoint of the elite and donors. A minority gains whilst the majority suffer.

  8. That’s quite a moderate MB response to the farrago of lies from John Brumby / Victorian International Education Council – yet another parasite body feeding off the foreign student migrant trafficking trade.

    So to restore some balance and facts to the debate here’s a more detailed examination of the real costs and impacts of the foreign student migrant trafficking.

    Make up your own minds who is correct.

    First up the number of foreign students & partners (on a secondary visa of a foreign student primary visa) is consistently understated in the media.

    Foreign students & partners enter on at least 4 different categories & this mask the real number – students, partners, graduates & the DFAT scholarship usually not shown).

    Here is the correct data for January 2021.

    684,000 foreign students on primary visas by country of origin. (190,000 Chinese communist Hukuo underclass, 115,000 Indians, 52,000 from Nepal !)
    Plus another 65,000 so called partners on secondary partner visas
    So it’s a total of 749,000..
    Three quarters of a million…
    fact check.

    Foreign Students detail.

    The so called ‘Foreign student & partners‘ numbers have not reduced.

    Despite the fact that this intake are unskilled mature adult third world migrants on faux visas only here to live & work illegally.

    On fake funds.
    Almost all arrive in debt to their foreign agent criminal traffickers.
    Easily cross checked in the ABF data of self declared or checked funds, routinely & systemically frauded across the board – and if actually checked – a round robin of one off bank xfers & statements, then whisked out of the bank account by the agent procurer to traffic in the next third world unskilled migrant to live & work illegally.

    Most foreign students did not attend classes at all in 2020 – all online fakery easily frauded.
    No checks.
    👉🏾Working illegally more than ever.

    They are not an ‘export’.

    They are a massive social & economic liability to Australia costing some $35 billion.

    The foreign students & partners enter on falsely self declared or checked funds.

    They only pay a first semester, usually borrowed from the agent trafficker.

    Their documents and health checks (overseas agent Doctor) are invariably false.

    The courses are nonsense- up to 4 years for what is a 14 year old 1 term business studies course with faux certificates or diplomas that have zero industry or international recognition.

    The progression rate for a foreign student to have a professional vocation with a higher than average income in Australia or their home country is only 3.6% (Migrant Pathways A Decade On report)

    That’s right – 96% fail to be anything other than a useless third world unskilled migrant who paid for pretext education so they could work illegally in a western country and repay agent procurer debt & send back remittances. (And hoped to snag a PR in visa churn)

    All their living costs & ongoing fees are paid from money earned in Australia.

    And given they are unskilled, useless, third world & no English – then it’s by working illegally.

    Over 75% work illegally on top of so called limited work rights (Sydney Uni / UTS study)

    🔻Stealing over 600,000 Australian’s jobs.

    That alone costs Australian taxpayers over $19 billion in unemployed Australian Centrelink benefits – 2 x the foreign student so called fees paid (from money earned here anyway) for the fake visa alibi.

    🔻Lowering wages for all other Australians costing tens of billions more.

    🔻Occupying over 120,000 modest ex Australian residential dwellings in migrant run cash in hand bunk slum share.
    While we have 116,000 Australian permanent homeless & 340,000 seeking affordable housing. Costing the Australian taxpayers over $4 billion.

    🔻The foreign students are the epicentre of foreign run criminal activity, black market labor rings.

    At least 50,000 foreign students have been trafficked in as the stock in trade for the Asian run vice industry, drug cartels, money laundering mules & other such criminal activity.
    The Chinese communists, the north Asian misfit useless, the Indian slum clearance, the Bangla & Nepalese rurals, the Arab, African & South America criminal spawn – entering as an unskilled ‘student’ at 35 years old. Replete with the falsified identities, the falsified foreign doctor health check, the falsified papers, the pretext course.
    They aren’t here to ‘learn’ anything.
    They are only here to live & work illegally, to repay their agent procurer debt and send back remittances.

    🔻Then we have the congestion, filth, squalor, infrastructure and public services overload.
    Vast areas of Sydney and Melbourne faithful replicas of these third world migrants home country slums.
    Costing Australians billions more.

    🔻A deluge of third world useless and their attendant parasite ‘faux teacher’ that has destroyed our Australian education system.
    Australian Education has fallen 10 places in the global rankings.

    When our Education system was allowed to prostitute itself as a migrant guestworker visa alibi, it also became unaffordable- and stopped being an entitlement for our youth.
    Costing our society tens of billions more.

    Each and every foreign student allowed in is a liability to our country.

    Some basic questions:

    👉🏾Why aren’t foreign student and partner visa COe enforced?

    👉🏾Why aren’t their funds being checked?

    👉🏾If they are doing online courses.. why do they have to be in Australia?

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