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Fund research to ease int’l revenue pressure

More funding for research could help Australian universities wean themselves off of international student revenue, the Universities Accord’s final report has signalled.
February 27 2024
2 Min Read

More funding for research could help Australian universities wean themselves off of international student revenue, the Universities Accord’s final report has signalled.

The major, 12-month review into the country’s entire tertiary education sector – calling for up to 80% of Australians to be tertiary-education by 2050 – listed a number of recommendations.

Among points surrounding international student revenue, integrity of the visa system and maintaining quality standards, it recommended fully-funded research as a “crucial objective”.

The review posited that to reduce the “excessive pressure” on securing international student revenue, government and industry “pay at least the full economic cost for the university research they commission and university consulting they purchase”.

A new Higher Education Future Fund would be joint project between the higher education sector and the
Australian government, with both co-contributing to the fund as it builds.

“University contributions could be based on a proportion of their untied own source, non-government revenue, with contributions matched by government,” the review recommended.

However, the Group of Eight universities branded it an effective “tax on universities”, especially those welcoming more international students.

“This tax has the potential to undermine the vision of the Accord report by taxing university engagement with industry, philanthropy, and international education – all activities promoted in the rest of the report,” Go8 chair Mark Scott said.

“It will not only undermine our hard-won and enduring successes in international education and damage our global reputation, but also our capacity to retain skilled graduates to underpin a productivity revival.”

An international student levy on income from overseas students was at one point discussed, but the specific idea has not yet materialised in legislation.

The UK’s sector has also seen concerns around its funding model in a similar manner, with a “modest” rise in international student numbers causing concern that less revenue from them could leave universities in financial trouble.

“Failure to [fix Australia’s higher education funding model] now will mean that universities cannot offer top-quality education for today’s students, let alone the millions more to enrol in future,” Scott wrote in The Guardian.

The Australian government and its Tertiary Education Commission should also be working together to address the “failures in quality and integrity in some parts of the market”, summarised in the review’s 22nd and 23rd recommendations.

“[The two bodies should] work together to manage volatility in demand where possible, including by diversifying markets to avoid over-reliance on a small number of countries.”

It also called for the minority of “international students seeking a migration pathway” to be encouraged to study courses linked to skill shortages and study in regional locations.

Quality standards regulator, TEQSA, should “take an evidence-based approach to ensure that providers have appropriate risk management strategies, including managing demand volatility, course concentrations and the quality of the student experience, and access and availability of affordable housing”.

According to the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia, the final report is “institution-centric and doesn’t put students at the heart of the higher education sector”.

“The report’s focus on public institutions offers little for students who want to achieve their life and career goals as a result of studying with an independent higher education provider,” ITECA chief executive Troy Williams said.



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