Universities’ fiscal dependence on international students

Protest against levying tuition on non-European students in front of the Norwegian parliament (Storting). Photo credit: ISU-Norway. Source: NRK.
Protest against levying tuition on non-European students in front of the Norwegian parliament (Storting). Photo credit: ISU-Norway. Source: NRK.

Stephen Connelly from the Melbourne-based educational consultancy firm GlobalEd Services notes that 18.7% of university students in Australia in 2014 were international, as compared to about 16% in Canada and 4% in the US. However, the US enrolls far larger numbers of international students. The proportion is smaller because the domestic US population and the US higher education sector are far larger than Australia’s or Canada’s.

Connelly notes further that international students were the source of 16.3% of Australian university revenue in 2013. The numbers would look very different for US colleges and universities, given that there is a large non-profit private sector and that even many state universities are dependent on donations and endowments. While New York University and the University of Southern California (both private) enroll the largest numbers of international students, state universities like the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign and Purdue University are not far behind.

While enrolling more international students and having tuition and fees from international students become a larger proportion of university revenue is not necessarily a bad thing, politicians have used it as an oblique way of reducing state support for higher education. For example, see how the Norwegian government tried to start charging tuition to international students to make up for budget cuts.

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