Tuition fees paid by international students studying in Australia account for almost 72 per cent of total tuition fee gains at public universities, according to a recent report by the Grattan Institute.
Student fees now comprise around a fifth of public university funding – almost AUS$6 billion a year. In 2013 about AUS$4.3 billion of these fees were paid by international students. The rest were paid by domestic students, with postgraduate students paying more than AUS$900 million.
Last year, 312,500 international students were enrolled in Australian universities, nearly twice as many as in 2001. This accounts for nearly a quarter of all enrolments at Australian universities.
Annual median international undergraduate fees range from AUS$21,000 to AUS$28,000, depending on discipline, but many students from overseas prefer more expensive universities, even when they charge twice as much as the cheapest universities do. Australian students, however, are far less willing than international students to pay a large premium for entry into prestige universities.
The report also found that, on average, universities charge international students about 50 per cent more than they charge domestic fee-paying students.
More than half of all undergraduate international students study commerce, with engineering the next most popular course.
By contrast, the most popular courses for domestic undergraduates are in the society and culture category, which includes arts and law degrees. Only 18 per cent of domestic undergraduate students take commerce-related courses.