Immigration policies 'could lead to fall in international students'

Universities Australia has warned tougher visa conditions in conjunction with a strong Australian dollar could lead to a decline in international students.

But both Labor and the Coalition have taken a tougher stance on immigration during the election campaign and universities are concerned that this will result in a drop in international students heading to Australia.

Tertiary education body Universities Australia warned "perceptions that Australia is no longer welcoming to international students have arisen and universities have been caught up in the collateral damage".

Universities Australia's chief executive, Glenn Withers, told the media: "Cutting overseas student numbers is equivalent to a tax or tariff on tertiary education. And it will make it harder, not easier to increase domestic skill provision."

The International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) is also concerned over the political wrangling over immigration and the potential effect on international students.

According to the IEAA, international student enrolments in 2010-2011 are expected to drop by 100,000-125,000, an estimated 30%, across universities, VET, schools and English language industry.

A 30% drop means the loss of 35,000 Australian jobs, the industry body claims.

Immigration has become a major issue in the election campaign. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has taken a tough stance on asylum-seekers, while Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is keen to tighten student visa conditions.

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