Australian university finances don't depend on China, says education minister

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan. Source: AAP

Dan Tehan has denied Australia's universities are captive to any one market, after a report found seven of the country's major tertiary institutions rely heavily on Chinese students.

Education Minister Dan Tehan says the financial position of Australia's universities is "incredibly solid", dismissing the findings of a report examining the sector's "over-reliance" on Chinese students. 

The Centre for Independent Studies report, released on Wednesday, found seven major universities rely heavily on Chinese international students for revenue, putting them at risk of financial collapse. 

Mr Tehan told ABC radio the report failed to put the revenue of Chinese international students in context, saying the seven institutions had a combined net surplus of $930 billion. 

"They understand what they need to do to secure the futures of their universities. They have very good financial positions and are managing their finances incredibly well,” he said.

University funding
Education Minister Dan Tehan says guidelines on foreign influence are being worked on by universities.

The report comes as university vice-chancellors prepare to meet with federal education department officials to finalise new guidelines on foreign interference and cybersecurity. 

"I don’t think they’ve become captive to any country," Mr Tehan said. 

Coalition backbenchers have also expressed concerns about Chinese influence over universities, criticising tertiary institutions for not been doing enough to protect free speech after Chinese Communist Party supporters clashed with pro-Hong Kong demonstrators on campuses. 

The Centre for Independent Studies report found Chinese students make up one in 10 enrollments at the University of Sydney, making them financially vulnerable if large numbers left for political, reputational or financial reasons. 

Mr Tehan downplayed that risk. 

"What I’m saying is the financial position of the University of Sydney is incredibly solid. They understand the importance of making sure they can continue to operate in a way that is fiscally responsible.

"I’m not seeing anything when it comes to those seven universities mentioned in that report that shows that in any way that they’re being fiscally irresponsible."

Diversification strategy in place

There are calls for universities to diversify its international enrollments - something the University of Sydney says is already occurring. 

In a statement, the university said its diversification strategy was already showing results. 

"We’ve already seen an increase in students from the USA and Canada and we’re working to increase the number of our students from India and Southeast Asia."

Chinese students
Chinese students at Curtin University in Perth during a graduation photoshoot.

The university expects to continue to have high numbers of Chinese students. 

"Given China’s population, location within our region and ongoing strong growth in demand for high-quality international education, we anticipate continuing to attract Chinese students."

Mr Tehan said it was natural for any export industry to have a greater reliance on one market at a particular time. 

"The most important thing is to make sure when it comes to the financial operations of your businesses, that you have plans in place, so if export markets do rise and fall, as they do, that you’ve got plans in place to address that."

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch