Danger for UOW in reliance on foreign students

International students contributed $132 million in revenue to UOW last year – more than a quarter of its total turnover.The financial risk posed by the University of Wollongong’s heavy reliance on international students has been called into question, amid figures showing they injected more than $130 million into the institution’s coffers last year.An auditor-general report into the finances of the state’s universities found UOW was in sound fiscal shape, but warned against the perils of an over-dependence on the lucrative but unstable overseas student market.”Almost 40 per cent of (the university’s enrolments) are made up of international students – it needs to be careful and manage that because it’s a more volatile source of revenue (than government-supported students),” an auditor-general spokesman said.The report showed international students comprised 37 per cent of the university’s student body in 2008, second only to Sydney’s Macquarie University.Chinese students made up the largest number of enrolments, followed by those from India, Saudi Arabia and the United States.Figures supplied by the university showed international students contributed $132 million in revenue last year – more than a quarter of its total turnover, and 7 per cent above the state average.Studies show overseas students inject a further $150 million into the Illawarra economy each year.The report also raised concern over the uni’s ageing workforce, finding almost 40 per cent of its academic staff were aged over 50.”The university needs to ensure it has adequate staff with the right skills to replace people when they retire (or) it risks being able to provide the high-quality education that it is set up to do,” the spokesman said.A university spokesman said it was managing the risk posed by overseas student income by branching into a range of markets and student types.”The university is not only actively targeting a range of overseas countries but ensures it reaches a good balance of undergraduate and postgraduate students,” the spokesman said.The university was addressing its ageing staff base through development programs for early career researchers, PhD scholarships, retention planning and a transition to retirement process.He said the staff age profile for UOW was almost identical to other NSW universities.The report also found the university had recovered well from the global financial crisis, which wiped almost $26 million from the value of its investments in 2008.More than $16 million was recovered the following year.But the auditor-general urged caution as UOW forges ahead with $320 million in capital works over the next few years, including a further $71 million to be spent on the Innovation Campus, warning the global recovery was “fragile”.
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