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International students pumped $20.3 billion into Australia’s economy in the last 12 months

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International education generated a record AU$20.3 billion in export income for Australia in 2015/16, highlighting its importance to the country’s economy, said Universities Australia.

The latest figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show an increase of 8 percent from the previous year, with students at universities and other tertiary education institutions supplying about 68 percent (AU$13.7 billion) of that income.

Currently, more than 320,000 students from 130 countries are studying at Australian universities, supporting more than 130,700 Australian jobs.

Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson said in a statement: “Not only is international education a core component of Australia’s economy, it contributes profoundly to Australia’s relationships with the world.”

“Over the past 50 years, Australian universities have been the vanguard of Australia’s engagement with our region. The people-to-people links forged through international education create the country-to-country ties that help us all to prosper.

“Through the exchange of students on a grand scale, we’re forging relationships that underpin our future diplomacy, trade, business links, cultural insight, and personal connections,” she added.

The national average of international student enrolments at Australian universities was nearly 20 percent last year, but the university with the highest share was the University of Melbourne, with 31.2 percent of its enrolments comprising students from overseas.

According to the Australian, experts expect international student numbers to grow, as the UK’s Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States may divert student flows to Australia from two of its biggest competitors. 

The paper also said that previous research has shown that international students “not only subsidize the teaching of domestic students but also keep afloat the multimillion-dollar research efforts of major universities”.

Local undergraduate students taking a business course pay around AU$10,440 a year in tuition fees, while international students taking the same degree are charged fees ranging from AU$19,920 to AU$39,264.

Government data has revealed that top Australian universities have been increasing their international student intake over the past several years to help cover the costs of research, with the largest share coming from China.

However, Phil Honeywood, CEO of the International Education Association of Australia, has warned of relying too much on China as a source country for students.

“With 85 percent of native Mandarin speakers in many of our business courses now we are in danger of compromising the international experience of many overseas students. Getting the nationality mix right is going to be a key challenge,” he said, as quoted by Australian Financial Review.

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