Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Learning boom amid the economic gloom

Learning boom amid the economic gloom

AUSTRALIA'S export education industry grew 42 per cent in the three years to 2008, employs 126,000 people and contributes 1per cent of the nation's gross domestic product, according to an Access Economics report.

The report, to be released today, is the first to synthesise all available data on the economic contribution of international students to the Australian economy.

It finds that the total impact of the export industry on the economy, once the "value-added" effect of $12.6 billion is added to direct expenditure by overseas students and their families of $14.1 billion, exceeds $26.7 million. Commissioned by the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, it confirms that the education sector is the nation's third biggest export earner behind coal and iron ore, outperforming travel, services (professional, business and technical), as well as exports of gold, crude petroleum and aluminium.

The report found that every dollar spent on education by an international student in Australia contributed an additional $1.91 to the economy.

International student activity is estimated to have contributed just more than 122,000 full-time equivalent employees to the economy in 2007-08, it says. "Of these, 33,482 were employed in the education sector and 88,649 in other related sectors."

ACPET national executive officer Andrew Smith confirmed to the HES yesterday that enrolments in private colleges were holding firm this year and in some cases rising amid the recession. "While a number of other industries are contracting, this is one that is going from strength to strength," he said. "It is important to the Australian economy that this is recognised."

Mr Smith described the export education sector, comprising public and private providers, as "a booming industry and one of our strongest defences against global recession". For every four overseas students to enter the country, a job was created.

The Access Economics report found that in 2007-08 more than 21,000 overseas students were granted residency under various visa class applications.

It predicts that a 5 per cent reduction in overseas student numbers would cause 6300 Australians to lose their jobs as the economy lost more than $600million in export revenue.

Australian education providers also earned $438 million from overseas campuses and consultancy services, bringing total income for the sector to $14.1billion. Of $13.7 billion spent by overseas students in 2007-08, more than $6.4 billion went on education fees and $4.3 billion on food and accommodation. The report found that Australia, with less than 1 per cent of the world's population, enrolled 7.5 per cent of the world's international students.

Overall, the international enrolments of private sector providers grew by 92.6 per cent from 2006 to 2007. The highest growth was experienced in Victoria, where the sector increased by almost 250 per cent.

This compares with growth of only 7.7 per cent between 2006 and 2008 in the number of overseas students in higher education, suggesting that "the sector has reached a mature growth phase compared with other sectors of the education market".

The English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students and vocational education and training sectors, in contrast, experienced a surge in growth during the period, with enrolments increasing by 63.7 per cent and 112.6 per cent respectively.

Mr Smith added that the importance of the export education industry could not be measured solely in economic terms.

"Education makes an enormous contribution to the students who come here to study, and to their communities when they return and take an Australian education home," he said.

IDP Education chief executive Tony Pollock said the report showed that international education was important to the students who came to Australia and the Australian economy.

"International education is a high-value, knowledge industry (that) creates jobs in Australia and, as a nation, we have proved we are very good at it," he said.

TAFE Directors Australia chief executive Martin Riordan said vocational students accounted for almost half the overseas students, and showed heftier spending on a government campaign to shore up recruitment of overseas students was justified.

Mr Riordan also warned that a critical lack of student housing needed to be addressed.

Source: The Australian