Free education down under

A desperate shortage of local students has forced Australian universities to offer free tuition to attract master’s, PhD and post­doctoral students from other countries.

The nation’s booming resources industries are luring engineering and science graduates with salaries of up to A$100 000 (about R678 000) a year compared with the usual A$20 000 for a postgraduate on a research scholarship.

With declining numbers of local students prepared to undertake postgraduate research degrees, universities in the resource-rich states of Queensland and Western Australia are recruiting students from around the world with offers of scholarships and free tuition.

The school of engineering at the University of Queensland has attracted more than 30 foreign students by waiving fees worth A$30 000 a year. The students undertake research in a range of areas, including biological, civil, environmental, mechanical, metallurgical and mining and materials engineering.

Overseas postgraduates are drawn to the University of Western Australia, which also introduced a fee-waiver programme two years ago. Initially 40 scholarships were available to foreign PhD students. This has been boosted by another 50 places a year, specifically aimed at attracting students from China.

The big eastern state institutions are in the market for foreign postgraduates too. The University of Sydney offers 30 international research scholarships every year to outstanding foreign students. The scholarships cover tuition fees plus an annual stipend of about $20 000.

The University of Melbourne offers 150 international fee remission scholarships each year to students undertaking research higher degrees. Each faculty has a limited number to award. A further 38 new-endeavour international postgraduate research scholarships are available to students undertaking research higher degrees.

These, however, are funded by the Australian government and cover full tuition for each year of the course and the annual overseas student health cover. Students awarded a scholarship by the university also receive free tuition, a living allowance, thesis allowance and other benefits.

Last December the University of Adelaide signed an agreement in Beijing with the Chinese Scholarship Council under which tuition fees, travel costs and living expenses for PhD and postdoctoral students are met while they are in Australia. At least 10 of the new scholarships are on offer this year, rising to more than 30 in the next three years.

Professor John Taplin, Adelaide pro-vice-chancellor (international), went to Beijing to participate in signing the agreement with the secretary general of the Scholarship Council, Zhang Xiuqin. Taplin said his university would waive tuition fees, while the council would meet all the students’ travel expenses, living costs and health insurance while they were in Australia.

He said Adelaide had developed partnerships with five research-intensive universities in China and expected the number to increase in the next few years.

“Adelaide has a very good relationship with China and we have seen the number of students enrolled in our programmes markedly increase,” Taplin said. “We have not seen the same dramatic rise among our own PhD research students and we identified this as an area where we needed to do more.”

Universities elsewhere around the world, particularly in the US, were providing fee waivers to attract students so Adelaide decided to find a means of achieving the same goal, Taplin said.

A spokesperson for the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations said fee waivers would become a trend as universities competed at the higher end of the international student market. This was in sharp contrast to the previous attitude of universities trying to attract the maximum number of foreign full-fee paying undergraduates to boost their incomes, the spokesperson said. — Â

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