He will say there were more international students enrolled in higher education in 2019 than last year, when the migration and housing debate began in earnest.

“Other factors, not international students, are to blame,” he will say. “The political imperative to act lies in Australia’s housing crisis – a mess for which international students have become convenient scapegoats.”


Sheehy will say universities are forecasting a collective shortfall of at least half a billion dollars this year due to the visa processing changes and increase in visa cancellations, which he said would “inevitably” lead to cuts to campus infrastructure, research and jobs.

“A funding shortfall of $500 million could claim as many as four and a half thousand jobs across the sector. That would mean more people out of work during a cost-of-living crisis, driving up unemployment and adding further pressure to the government’s budget bottom line,” a copy of the speech says.

Sheehy will say the crackdown on the $48 billion sector could have knock-on effects for 250,000 jobs nationally, and hinder the tourism sector, which is aided by many people visiting students.

The peak body head will appeal to both sides of politics to give tertiary educators the same support as the mining sector, which, according to the Minerals Council, raked in $455 billion in export revenue in 2022-23.

“The two major parties insisted that as long as there is international demand for exports, Australia will continue to sell its resources to the world,” he will say.

“Australia does not yet have the complexity in its economy to abandon the sectors that pay our nation’s way. Education, right after mining, is one of those sectors.”

The total overseas student population in Australia was 634,000 in September 2019. It fell to 318,000 during the pandemic, government figures show, but has rebounded strongly, fuelling community concerns about housing shortages and urban congestion.

Draft laws, introduced to parliament by Clare last month, would automatically ban universities that breached their international student caps from enrolling more students for up to a year.

The legislative changes to boost the integrity of the tertiary education sector while slimming its size would also bar new providers from recruiting overseas students for two years and suspend those who did not teach any foreign students in a 12-month stretch to weed out so-called “ghost colleges”.

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