Increased Dependency on Overseas Research Students Highlights A National Policy Failing

An analysis of research doctorate enrolments from 2008 to 2017 by Frank Larkins reveals the growing dependency of Australian universities on overseas students to sustain their research contribution to the national innovation agenda.

Australian Universities are becoming increasingly dependent on discretionary income and overseas doctoral research students to sustain their research activities as government support continues to be eroded. Australia’s intellectual property generation and its international competitiveness in innovation and new product development is at risk because of a national policy failing.

Research students are central to the research productivity of universities. An analysis of the trends in doctorate by research enrolments from 2008 to 2017 reveals the growing dependency of universities on overseas students to sustain their research contribution to the national innovation agenda. For 2017, on a student load basis, 40 of every 100 doctoral research contributions were from overseas students, compared with only 26 in 100 in 2008. Domestic student candidatures in 2017 were dominated by part-time students. There were 208 part-timers for every 100 full-time candidates. By contrast, for overseas students there were only 68 part-timers for every 100 full-time candidates. Furthermore, in 2017 the number of full-time domestic and overseas candidates were almost equal with more overseas doctoral students researching in information technology and in engineering and related technologies than domestic students.

Full-time students are very important to sustain the momentum of research discoveries in fast-moving internationally competitive fields through timely discoveries. Recent reductions by the Commonwealth government in the funding for PhD scholarship will further impact on the balance between domestic to overseas students.

In 2017 non-Go8 universities enrolled more domestic and more overseas doctoral students than the Go8 universities. This development highlights a significant shift in the balance of the collective research contributions by university groupings. Over the decade to 2017 Go8 universities have had a much greater emphasis on the recruitment of overseas doctoral students (102% load growth) than on domestic recruitment (3% load growth). The consequence for national higher-level skills development and the retention of new knowledge in Australia requires more policy consideration.

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Professor Emeritus Frank Larkins

f.larkins@unimelb.edu.au

0400109785