Funding crisis hits schools after fall in overseas students

Excess fees: Overseas students may be required to pove they have sufficient funds for tutition fees sometimes up to two years in advance. Photo: Michele MossopEnrolments of international students in NSW high schools have plummeted, falling 22 per cent since 2009 and shaving $320 million off the lucrative industry.

There are now 4333 international students at the state’s independent and public high schools compared with 5576 in 2009, the NSW Department of Education and the Association of Independent Schools of NSW says. The collapse in the market has hit independent schools hardest, with a 36.6 per cent drop.

Education professionals blame the decline on the global financial crisis, the high Australian dollar in recent years and tougher visa application regulations that apply only to high school students.

The national executive director of the International Education Association of Australia, Phil Honeywood, said that while the industry hoped the recent drop in the dollar would attract more overseas students, it would take time for its effects to be seen because ”enrolment decisions are often made many years in advance”.

Mr Honeywood believes a heavy-handed federal government has been the bigger factor in the falling enrolment numbers. He said the Department of Immigration and Citizenship introduced streamlined visa processing in March last year that reduced the requirements of university students to gain a visa, but the visa regulations excluded school students.

“They haven’t allowed high schools to have this streamlined visa procedure, meaning there’s a lot of paperwork and red tape around who can and can’t be brought in for schools, making it very difficult for them to recruit international students in an efficient manner,” Mr Honeywood said. “Schools are having quite a crisis when it comes to international students.

“The government’s responsibility is to ensure the regulatory framework is made as easy as possible for high schools to recruit international students while maintaining policy assurance … the introduction of streamlined visas means only students recruited through a university will be given a much easier visa pathway. Schools are missing out.”

International student enrolments are a $5.5 billion export market for NSW, second only to coal. Charges range from $13,000 for an average public high school to as much as $120,000 for independent schools such as Sydney Church of England Grammar School.

The director of marketing and enrolments at St Luke’s Grammar School in Dee Why, Danielle Hargrove, said that depending on a student’s assessment, parents may find it difficult to meet Australian immigration laws.

“They may need to prove they have sufficient funds for tuition fees in their bank accounts before a visa is approved,” she said. ”These fees can be for up to two years in advance, which can be in excess of $70,000. Other countries, like the USA and Canada, don’t require this upfront.”

The federal government made changes to visa fees on July 1, which a spokesman for the NSW Deputy Premier fears could “effectively price Australia out of the highly competitive global market for skilled migrants and students”.

“The additional applicant charges will have the most significant impact, adding a surcharge of 50 per cent for a family member aged 18 or over and a surcharge of 25 per cent for family members aged under 18,” he said.

The executive director of the Association of Independent Schools in NSW, Geoff Newcombe, said that before 2009 a steady increase in numbers reflected a significant growth of middle classes in major student markets in Asia.

“This is where families view study at high quality educational institutions in English-speaking countries as a valuable foundation for employment and business success,” he said.

While most NSW schools have experienced dropping numbers, some north Sydney schools remain popular for international students.

Bucking the trend with a 261.9 per cent enrolment increase in three years is Chatswood Intensive English Centre.

School principal Julie Ross said this was because the north Sydney region reputation was unique and attractive for mainland Chinese parents.

The NSW Department of Education last year reported seven countries provided for 91 per cent of enrolments, with 52 per cent from China, followed by 15 per cent from Vietnam, 14 per cent from South Korea, 3 per cent from Germany and Hong Kong and 2 per cent from Thailand and Japan.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.