The coronavirus epidemic is beginning to cause major angst within the Federal Government ranks and Australia’s most prestigious Universities known as the Group of Eight (GO8). The Morrison Government has opened up Australian borders to Year 11 and 12 high school students from China.[1] And is contemplating a total lift of the travel ban to the 100,00 students in China.[2] China is Australia’s number one export market. It is also the largest source of foreign students.[3]

Australian universities got themselves into a financial predicament – over reliance on China student’s fees.

The major issue for the Morrison Government and Australian Universities is the $12.09 billion education exports to China in 2018-19.[4] There are major problems with the way Australia’s education sector runs its operations predominantly reliant on overseas students fees.

Some commentators have suggested the Universities have got themselves in this mess and there should be no Government bail out if the coronavirus continues to infect more people. Australian researchers at the Centre of Independent Studies argue that it is inherently risky for the Universities to build a business around education exports to the citizens of a totalitarian police state with which Australia has contentious international relations.[5]

The critical factors in attracting overseas students to Australia are the opportunity to significantly increase their income thorough automatic student working rights on entry into Australia. Another key driver is that there is the strong possibility of a student transferring from a student visa to another temporary visa or to a bridging visa with the ultimate goal of securing permanent residency. If the Australian Government looked at decoupling the visa pathways or dismantling the automatic working rights – this would make a difference in being able to better manage migration flows. This could be the ideal time to make those critical changes to the students migration program and start to engage more unemployed Australian’s to get into the local workforce. By January 2020 unemployment has increased and there are nearly 710,000 Australian’s without a job.[6] In the year to December 2019 they’re where 758,154 foreign students with working rights in Australia.[7]

Local Youth – a vulnerable group to mass student migration in Australia.

The Productivity Commission’s major report Migration Intake Into Australia (2016), demonstrated that mass migration unambiguously increase the supply of labour, generating downward pressure on wages (and wage growth).[8] Further they pointed out that international evidence suggest displacement of existing workers is most likely to occur where economic conditions are weak, and where the immigrant labour supply is large. Existing inhabitants with low skill levels and aged 15–24 (youth) are at greatest risk of displacement as their labour is more easily substituted for immigrant labour.[9]

The pressure on Australia’s youth is no doubt intensified by the huge amount of overseas students in Australia. For the year to December 2019 there where 758,154 overseas students studying in Australia. China had by far the largest at 212,264 students or 28% of the total. In fact 9 out of the top 10 countries by numbers of students visas in Australia are from developing and 3rd World countries. [10]

In Western Australia a migration reform such as curtailing foreign students automatic working rights may help to reduce the chronic unemployment rate at 15.2% (original data) for young people aged (15-24).[11] Instead the McGowan Government are trying to entice thousands more overseas students from China and other countries to Western Australia. Thus heightening the competition in the State’s shrinking job market with the State’s total unemployed increasing to 82,400 (trend) at January 2020 and an unemployment rate of 5.7%.[12]


[1] Goya Dmytryshchak, ‘Government Relaxes Travel Ban for Some Students from China’, 2020 <> [accessed 23 February 2020].

[2] David Llewellyn-Smith, ‘Morrison Risks Lives of One-in-Twenty Retirees – MacroBusiness’, 2020 <> [accessed 26 February 2020].

[3] Australian Government, Australian Trade and Investment Commission, ‘China Market Profile’, 2020 <> [accessed 23 February 2020].

[4] Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment, ‘Research Snapshots’, 2020 <> [accessed 25 February 2020].

[5] Salvatore Babones, ‘Australia’s Export Exposure to China’s Coronavirus Epidemic’, The Centre for Independent Studies <> [accessed 24 February 2020].

[6] Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘6202.0 – Labour Force, Australia, Jan 2020’ (c=AU; o=Commonwealth of Australia; ou=Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2020) <> [accessed 27 February 2020].

[7] Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment, ‘International Student Data’, 2020 <> [accessed 25 February 2020].

[8] Australian Government Productivity Commission, ‘Migrant Intake into Australia – Productivity Commission Inquiry Report’, 2016 <> [accessed 23 February 2019].

[9] Australian Government Productivity Commission.

[10] Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment, ‘International Student Data’.

[11] Australian Bureau of Statistics.

[12] Australian Bureau of Statistics.

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