.

  • Written by Andrew Norton, Honorary fellow, University of Melbourne
Macquarie University is hit harder than others, but domestic enrolments across Australia aren't increasing like they used to. from shutterstock.com

Sydney’s Macquarie University announced budget cuts in recent days, due to “zero growth” in enrolments next year.

Vice-Chancellor Bruce Dowton reportedly wrote a letter to staff announcing the cuts, which included a hiring freeze. The letter said:

Enrolment growth domestically and internationally has slowed significantly at a time when our base operating costs continue to rise […] Current projections are that there will be zero growth in load [full-time student numbers] in 2020.

This comes a few months after a report from the Centre for Independent Studies warned Australia’s universities were in for a “catastrophic” financial hit due to their over-reliance on international students from China.

Macquarie has been hit harder than most other universities, but many universities are finding it more difficult to recruit students than they did a few years ago. New domestic enrolments are in a mild recession. And although international student numbers are still growing, demand from Chinese international students has stabilised.

No increase in school leavers wanting university

In 2018, the number of students starting a bachelor degree fell for the first time since 2003. Of Australia’s 37 public universities, 23 took fewer new bachelor-degree students in 2018 than 2017.

Enrolments are expected to be down again in 2019, following a drop in applications. Commencing domestic postgraduate student numbers peaked several years ago.

In a sector used to growth a downturn causes problems.

Since a Commonwealth funding freeze announced in late 2017, universities have not had strong financial incentives to enrol additional students. But this is not the main reason for falling enrolments. The issue is weak demand more than reluctant supply.


Read more: Demand-driven funding for universities is frozen. What does this mean and should the policy be restored?


Demand for higher education is influenced by the population of potential applicants. Recent school leavers are the biggest bachelor-degree market. The number of year 12 school students fell slightly in 2018, mostly due to a downward trend in babies born 17 years previously.



Birth and forecast population trends suggest year 12 student numbers will increase by only 1-2% in the next couple of years. So domestic demand for higher education from school leavers should stay close to current levels.

Mature-age students also affect enrolments

To date, mature-age students are the principal cause of falling commencing bachelor-degree enrolments. But the number of non-year 12 applicants new to higher education is not trending down. For the last few years their applications have fluctuated in a narrow range.

The drop in demand is driven by people who have been to university before. Possibly, more student places under demand-driven funding triggered a boom in course switching and former students returning, which has now subsided.

Former students are also affecting the domestic postgraduate market. The number of people who already have a degree, which makes them eligible for postgraduate study, is at record levels. But domestic postgraduate coursework commencements peaked in 2014 and have declined since.



This is not an isolated trend. All types of structured education for people already in the workforce are in decline. It’s likely online self-education is taking market share.


Read more: The three things universities must do to survive disruption


What about international enrolments?

The story is very different in the international-student postgraduate market, which is growing rapidly. In 2018, for the first time ever, more international students started a postgraduate than an undergraduate course in Australia.

Despite some soft international markets, the overall trend is up. The most recent data, which take us to August 2019 and cover all levels of higher education, show commencing enrolments are 7% higher than at the same time in the previous year.



Student visa applications, which go up to September this year, suggest overall demand continues to increase modestly. But we should wait until later in the year before drawing firm conclusions.

A key cause of enrolment increases is India’s rapid rise. Commencing Indian student enrolments have more than doubled since 2016. Although China remains the largest source of international students, new Chinese enrolments have stabilised this year.

International student issues could cause numbers to fall

Given enrolment and visa trends, total international student enrolments will increase in the short term. But there are many concerns about this industry, including English language standards, cheating, soft marking, Chinese political interference, university financial over-reliance on international students, labour market exploitation of students, and poor graduate outcomes.


Read more: Are international students passing university courses at the same rate as domestic students?


There are also broader issues of international students driving up migration numbers, as well as questions of whether we want a large proportion of the population living with limited political and welfare rights.

Population issues contributed to a rule change to attract international students away from congested big cities to regional and minor city locations. I expect further regulatory changes and market reactions to international education issues to eventually cause a decline in numbers.

University luck might be about to run out

For universities addicted to international student dollars any enrolment decline is bad news. But universities have a history of luck. As international student numbers dropped a decade ago, domestic enrolments boomed. And as domestic numbers flattened in recent years, the international market took off.

As the domestic demography chart above suggests, there is potential for big increases in Australian undergraduates in the mid-2020s, as the mid-2000s baby boom children reach university age.


Read more: Australian universities can't rely on India if funds from Chinese students start to fall


There is, however, a major obstacle to that scenario: with the end of demand-driven funding, there will be no money to pay for those extra students. Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has acknowledged the problem but so far has no solution.

Without one, the future contains major risks. Universities could have falling enrolments for both domestic and international students. This will mean staff cuts and less money for research.

And the people born in the mid-2000s could be part of an unlucky generation in which population growth collides with budget constraint. Their chances of finding a university place will be lower than for people born in earlier decades.

Andrew Norton does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Authors: Andrew Norton, Honorary fellow, University of Melbourne

Read more http://theconversation.com/enrolments-flatlining-australian-unis-financial-strife-in-three-charts-126342

Putting homes in high-risk areas is asking too much of firefighters

The impacts of the bushfires that are overwhelming emergency services in New South Wales and Queensland suggest houses are being built in areas where the risks are high. We rely heavily on emergency s...

Mark Maund, PhD Candidate, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle - avatar Mark Maund, PhD Candidate, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle

Natural history on TV: how the ABC took Australian animals to the people

The 'natural sounds' of native animals like this koala had been heard on ABC Radio, but bringing them to TV audiences in the 1960s presented new and exciting challenges. abcarchives/flickr, CC BY-NCMo...

Gay Hawkins, Professor, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University - avatar Gay Hawkins, Professor, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

If weight loss is your only goal for exercise, it's time to rethink your priorities

Choose an activity you enjoy so it's easier to stick to. ShutterstockAs an aesthetic society, we often demonise body fat and stigmatise people with lots of it. There’s often an assumption that p...

Evelyn Parr, Research Fellow in Exercise Metabolism and Nutrition, Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research, Australian Catholic University - avatar Evelyn Parr, Research Fellow in Exercise Metabolism and Nutrition, Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research, Australian Catholic University

Old white men dominate school English booklists. It's time more Australian schools taught Australian books

Shakespeare's plays are still some of the most studied texts in school English. from shutterstock.comIn recent weeks, Australian universities’ commitment to teaching Australian literature has co...

Larissa McLean Davies, Associate Professor Language and Literacy Education, University of Melbourne - avatar Larissa McLean Davies, Associate Professor Language and Literacy Education, University of Melbourne

There's a yawning gap in the plan to keep older Australians working

A key reason for deciding to retire has to do with getting tired at and through work, how that tiredness affects partners and families. www.shutterstock.comIn the past decade a 30-year trend to earlie...

Andreas Cebulla, Senior Research Fellow, South Australian Centre for Economic Studies, University of Adelaide - avatar Andreas Cebulla, Senior Research Fellow, South Australian Centre for Economic Studies, University of Adelaide

Climate explained: why coastal floods are becoming more frequent as seas rise

As sea levels rise, it becomes easier for ocean waves to spill further onto land. from www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND CC BY-ND Climate Explained is a collaboration between Th...

James Renwick, Professor, Physical Geography (climate science), Victoria University of Wellington - avatar James Renwick, Professor, Physical Geography (climate science), Victoria University of Wellington

Instead of showing leadership, Twitter pays lip service to the dangers of deep fakes

Neural networks can generate artificial representations of human faces, as well as realistic renderings of actual people. ShutterstockFake videos and doctored photographs, often based on events such a...

David Cook, Lecturer, Computer and Security Science,Edith Cowan University, Edith Cowan University - avatar David Cook, Lecturer, Computer and Security Science,Edith Cowan University, Edith Cowan University

Government to inject economic stimulus by accelerating infrastructure spend

The government is responding to increasing concern about the faltering economy by bringing forward A$3.8 billion of infrastructure investment into the next four years, including $1.8 billion for the c...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Government announces changes to error-prone robo-debt collection

The government has overhauled its much-criticised robo-debt scheme which has seen many welfare recipients asked to repay money they do not owe. A Tuesday email to staff in the Human Services departme...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Shampoo with a Purpose

Plastic fantastic? The two-in-one solid shampoo & conditioning bar reducing bathroom waste by 6 plastic bottles per unit When it comes to the convenience of plastic, this widely used and dive...

Scott Broome - avatar Scott Broome

Evacuating with a baby? Here's what to put in your emergency kit

It's difficult to recall what you might need as you're preparing to evacuate, so have your kit ready to go. New Africa/ShutterstockEvery summer in Australia, bushfires, cyclones and floods threaten l...

Karleen Gribble, Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Western Sydney University - avatar Karleen Gribble, Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Western Sydney University

We modelled 4 scenarios for Australia's future. Economic growth alone can't deliver the goods

Australia could achieve higher economic growth through more population growth and lower taxes, but at the expense of equality, fairness and the environment. www.shutterstock.comDespite 28 years of uni...

Cameron Allen, Researcher, UNSW - avatar Cameron Allen, Researcher, UNSW

Australia's major summer arts festivals: reckoning with the past or retreating into it?

Wesley Enoch's Sydney Festival has placed First Nations people and artists at its heart. Victor Frankowski/Sydney FestivalAustralia invests heavily in its major festivals: A$5 million in state governm...

Caroline Wake, Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Performance, UNSW - avatar Caroline Wake, Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Performance, UNSW

Don't (just) blame echo chambers. Conspiracy theorists actively seek out their online communities

The term illuminati has been used since the late 15th century, and applied to various groups since then. It's often discussed by conspiracy theorists, and is heavily referenced in pop-culture. Lettuce...

Colin Klein, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Australian National University - avatar Colin Klein, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Australian National University

University under siege: a dangerous new phase for the Hong Kong protests

Police say surrender is the only option for the hundreds of protesters occupying Hong Kong's Polytechnic University. Fazry Ismail/EPAWhile thousands of Hong Kongers have protested “like water&rd...

Amanda Tattersall, Postdoc in Urban Geography and Research Lead at Sydney Policy Lab. Host of ChangeMakers Podcast., University of Sydney - avatar Amanda Tattersall, Postdoc in Urban Geography and Research Lead at Sydney Policy Lab. Host of ChangeMakers Podcast., University of Sydney

Our land is burning, and western science does not have all the answers

Modern fire managers can learn much from Aboriginal fire practice. Matthew Newton/RUMMIN ProductionsLast week’s catastrophic fires on Australia’s east coast – and warnings of more so...

David Bowman, Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science, University of Tasmania - avatar David Bowman, Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science, University of Tasmania

Loneliness is a social cancer, every bit as alarming as cancer itself

Young adults and people living in the inner city are among those most likely to be lonely, according to the ABC's Australia Talks project. from www.shutterstock.comThe ABC’s Australia Talks proj...

Alex Haslam, Professor of Psychology and ARC Laureate Fellow, The University of Queensland - avatar Alex Haslam, Professor of Psychology and ARC Laureate Fellow, The University of Queensland

What the termite mound 'snowmen' of the NT can tell us about human nature

Along the Stuart Highway in the Northern Territory, giant termite mounds have been bestowed with human clothes and accessories. Author providedThe Stuart Highway in the Northern Territory is dotted wi...

Claire Smith, Professor of Archaeology, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Flinders University - avatar Claire Smith, Professor of Archaeology, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Flinders University

Nitrogen fertilisers are incredibly efficient, but they make climate change a lot worse

Sustainable farming can reduce nitrous oxide emissions. eutrophication&hypoxia/Flickr, CC BY-SANitrous oxide (N₂O) (more commonly known as laughing gas) is a powerful contributor to global w...

Pep Canadell, Chief research scientist, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere; and Executive Director, Global Carbon Project, CSIRO - avatar Pep Canadell, Chief research scientist, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere; and Executive Director, Global Carbon Project, CSIRO

Sick and Tired of Your Dead End Job? Try Teaching!

Tired of the same old grind at the office? Want an opportunity to impact lives both in your community and around the world? Do you love to travel and have new experiences? Teaching English is the perfect job for you! All you need is a willingness to ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Impact of an Aging Population in Australia

There’s an issue on the horizon that Australia needs to prepare for. The portion of elderly citizens that make up the country’s overall population is increasing, and we might not have the infrastructure in place to support this. Australians h...

News Company - avatar News Company

LifeStyle

How to Make Your Girlfriend’s Birthday Extra Special

Your girlfriend’s birthday is your opportunity to show her how much you care. But how exactly do...

A Guide to Building Your Kid’s Confidence

As your child grows, confidence is key. Having low self-esteem as a child can have a detrimental e...

3 Hacks that Will Extend the Life of Your Hair Extensions

Everybody has the right to enjoy beautiful, long hair, including you! If you’ve always heard a...

Lessons in Empathy for Children

The ability to be able to understand and share the feelings of a fellow human being – empathy ...