Australian universities nearing overseas enrolment caps

Australian universities are nearing the international enrolment caps proposed by the federal government, raising concerns about potential financial challenges. With student visa approvals increasing and enrolments rising, administrators are working to manage budgets as they approach these limits.

 

Recent data indicates that many universities are close to their “institution capacity” limits listed on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS). The latest Department of Education statistics from 2022 revealed that universities’ combined foreign enrolments were at 45% of the allowable numbers under CRICOS. However, university annual reports from 2023 show that onshore international enrolments surged by about 50% last year, bringing the enrolments up to approximately 68% of the allowed capacity. 

 

Student visa grants have also increased significantly in recent months, suggesting that 741,224 overseas enrolments for 2024 have surpassed those of 2023 with 561,162 international enrolments. This trend has led to concerns among university administrators about maintaining financial stability.

 

The federal government’s draft “Strategic Framework” for international education proposes “managed growth” for overseas student numbers when enrolment caps take effect in 2025. Education Minister Jason Clare emphasised the goal of achieving “sustainable growth in international education over time.”

 

A bill to legislate the enrolment caps requires universities to present compelling evidence to justify exceeding their caps, demonstrating a “significant public interest.” According to an explanatory memorandum accompanying the bill, institutions seeking to increase foreign enrolments must navigate a competitive and limited allocation process for student visas.

 

The legislation also restricts universities’ rights to appeal against these enrollment limits. “The allocation of student visas for overseas students will be limited and competitive. This power to set enrolment limits…ensures that overseas student enrolments are allocated beneficially for Australia’s interest. It is appropriate for merits review to be excluded from these decisions,” the document states.

 

Universities Australia, representing the sector, anticipates that the government will honour its promise of managed growth. Chief executive Luke Sheehy expressed cautious optimism, stating, “I take it in good faith that they’re going to allow growth…not just a curtailing of growth.”

 

Public figures have also weighed in positively on the issue. Senator David Pocock noted that the government’s approach is designed to address broader immigration issues in a fair manner. The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has called on leaders to ensure that university funding and jobs are not compromised by the reduction in international students. 

As universities grapple with these impending changes, the sector’s future hinges on careful policy implementation and a balanced approach to international enrolments. 


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