Int’l ‘should not dominate HE funds’ in Australia

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Fees from international students should not be the main source of funding at universities but it will always be key for finances, an Australian shadow minister has said in a wide-ranging interview.

Speaking on the Group of Eight’s podcast, DebateGo8, Australia’s shadow minister for Home Affairs, James Paterson, acknowledged that engaging in international education is “a fundamentally healthy thing” for universities.

“It should just never be the dominant or the major source of funding. We absolutely have a responsibility as governments to provide adequate revenue so that that is not the case,” he said.

But the reality is that universities are “competing at the funding table with every other worthy cause in Australia”, he continued.

“In a fiscally constrained environment, there is only so much governments can ever fund for universities. There are slightly different policy choices that we can make but there is never going to be a world in which international student revenue is completely replaced.”

Diversifying international student income – which many institutions globally are currently seeking to do – is important, he said.

“That is an easy thing for a politician to say and a harder thing for a university to deliver,” he accepted.

“In the case of the Chinese student market, they have a willingness to pay that many other international markets don’t have… Diversification to other countries is not that straight forward but it doesn’t mean it’s not something we shouldn’t strive for.”

Go8 chief executive, Vicki Thomson, emphasised that universities are diversifying for reasons beyond foreign interference and coercion as well as security reasons.

“I don’t think there would be too many vice chancellors who would disagree that you don’t put all you eggs in one basket. But the reality is it’s really challenging to spin on a dime to an alternative market,” she said on the podcast.

“If we look at the next biggest alternative market it’s India. Across the Go8 I think we’ve got around 12,000 Indian students which is far less than the number of Chinese students. It’s a long game.”

“National security is one case where governments do have a special set of knowledge”

Paterson also spoke about potential unintentional consequences of regulation on universities, including financial costs and efforts focusing on compliance meaning time is lost on teaching and researching.

“When it comes to national security, that is one case where governments do have a special set of knowledge because of classified intelligence,” he said.

“It is incumbent on government to provide that clarity and direction to universities. If we do leave it up to universities, we cannot blame them if they sometimes make the wrong decisions.”

Paterson, who previously warned that Chinese students in Australia “suffer from the authoritarian reach of the Chinese government”, said that the university foreign interference taskforce is “good but not sufficient”.

He gave the historical example of a Phd student “from the people’s liberation army” at an unnamed institution studying drone swarming.

“Ostensibly that was for agriculture purposes but it doesn’t require a very creative mind to imagine how else drone swarming could be used.”

Another university entered a partnership with an “effectively state-owned enterprise in China in the aerospace industry”.

“Again it is not hard to imagine, particularly when Xi Jinping publicly named this company as a champion of his military civil fusion, to anticipate the potential leakage of that civilian technology to military ends.

“I don’t want to see too much over the top direction from government for universities,” he said.

“I don’t think universities would enter an arrangement like that today.”

The post Int’l ‘should not dominate HE funds’ in Australia appeared first on The PIE News.

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