Home | Policy & Reform | “Not something you can switch on and off at will:” Calls for 35% flat cap on intl students
Vice-chancellor of Deakin University Iain Martin. Picture: NCA Newswire/Alan Barber

“Not something you can switch on and off at will:” Calls for 35% flat cap on intl students

Deakin University vice-chancellor Iain Martin has stepped ahead of his colleagues and called for a blanket 35 per cent cap on the number of international students at all universities.

Professor Martin said his proposal was better then the Albanese government’s more complex plan, which could pose extreme danger to the sector.

“If we get this wrong it will have profound and lasting impacts,” he told The Australian.

“The government has to realise this [international student flow] is not something you can switch on and off at will.”

But he said universities had to consider their social licence to enrol international students and respond to concern about their growing numbers.

“We can’t simply sit here and say everything is fine without working on the social licence piece,” he said.

Deakin University suggests, in addition to an overall 35 per cent cap on international students at each university, that no more than 50 per cent of students at a university should come from any one country and there should be no more than 40 per cent of international students enrolled in any broad field of education.

The proposal would force many universities to reduce international student numbers, both to get under a 35 per cent overall cap and to reduce reliance on particular countries.

The government is legislating to give the education minister the power to cap international students and apply different limits to individual universities and other education institutions, even down to the level of individual courses. A bill is before the Senate and being examined by a Senate committee.

Professor Martin said it was not practical for the government to limit international students numbers through such a micromanaged system, which did not recognise that international education was demand driven. “You can’t say [to a student] we’d rather you go to X to study Y,” he said.

He said broad uniform caps, as proposed by Deakin, could deliver much-needed stability to international education. Professor Martin conceded that Deakin already met the 35 per cent cap limit he was proposing.

It would give many universities the opportunity to increase international student numbers. But it would force some, particularly in the Group of Eight, to shed international students.

For example, 47 per cent of University of Sydney students are international. Sydney, and most other Go8 universities, are likely to have more than half of their international students currently coming from China.

The Go8 has told the government it opposes international student caps and instead proposes that growth targets be set for each university in discussion with the government.

Go8 chief executive Vicki Thomson said a sector-wide cap, such as that suggested by Deakin, was “blunt and does not take into account different contexts, for example the mix of undergraduate and postgraduate”.

The government is accepting responses to its plan to cap international students numbers and the University of Melbourne says in its submission that caps will be economically damaging to Australia and have a disproportionate impact on the Victorian economy, which earns nearly a third of Australia’s education export revenue.

Victorian government estimates say international education provides 63,000 equivalent full-time jobs in the state.

“For Victoria, capping student enrolments could have a severe impact on job losses,” the University of Melbourne said.

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