Andrew Robb, one of the Coalition’s policy broker believes Australia’s international student industry has the potential to grow to a mind-boggling 10 million students within 10 years according to a report in The Australian.
That would be a massive increase from fewer than 700,000 today. But before you get excited about the need for lots of new student accommodation, much of the growth would be students being taught offshore through online platforms.
But there would still be a significant upside for our economy and our property industry as there was scope to increase enrolments in local universities, with students possibly spending only six to 12 months of a three-year course in Australia.
Last year, 557,000 international students were in Australia and 139,000 were studying offshore.
Asia’s rising middle class drives demand
Mr Robb said the demand would be driven by Asia’s rising middle classes. Australian universities and TAFEs could potentially team up with online giants such as Google to roll out online platforms. He also believed there was “a lot of scope” to boost onshore numbers.
The scale of Mr Robb’s bullishness was greeted with scepticism by a sector still struggling to recover from the previous boom in student numbers. That boom went bust in 2009 when a crackdown on immigration rorts, student safety concerns and a strong Australian dollar hit the market.
There are also worries that accommodation and student support services could again be overstretched by an onshore boom.
Last month, the Gillard government’s International Education Advisory Council, chaired by businessman Michael Chaney, floated the idea of capping student numbers to ensure future sustainable growth.
Mr Robb said it was possible more students could come to Australia for shorter periods.
Growth would have to be well managed, with all levels of government co-operating and planning.
“There are lots of permutations and combinations . . . a lot of it will be offshore and a lot of it will be with different platforms with lectures online presented in a way that people feel they are in the room,” he told The Weekend Australian, after addressing the Victorian TAFE Association in Melbourne.
He admitted the scale of the opportunity was “hard to conceive’ but said the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development had forecast that by 2030, an extra two billion people would have become middle-class in the Asia-Pacific, from India to China, and they would be demanding improved education.
“I don’t see any reason why in 10 years we couldn’t be talking 10 million students,” he said. “The opportunity is there and if we don’t do it, others will.”
Monash University demographer Bob Birrell said Australia was struggling to hold on to the students it already had, in the face of the high dollar. Predictions of a boom in online delivery overseas underestimated the ability of countries such as China to roll out online programs of their own.
“Australian universities will be doing well if they can hold their present enrolments, given the carrot of permanent residency has been much reduced; the high cost of the Australian dollar; and the competition elsewhere,” Dr Birrell said.
The Australian economy has huge opportunities ahead as millions of people in China and other Asian countries move up to the new middle class providing significant opportunities to deliver goods and services to Asia’s new multi millionaires.
In fact we’ll have to find new industries to make up for our dwindling manufacturing sector.
That’s O.K. because we’ve got a lot more to offer than just resources. If we play our cards right, we could become the tourism playground of this new group of affluent people, just as we were for the Japanese in the 1980’s.
Plus we can provide education, health and other high end services to this wide demographic.
Sure our economy will have ups and downs, but there will be plenty of good times ahead.
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