UNIVERSITIES fear another crash in international enrolments as a debate rages about whether accountants should stay on a key migration priority list.
The federal government and the Finance Sector Union say Australia is awash with overseas-born accountants.
They say the profession should be removed from the 192-strong Skilled Occupation List, which governs eligibility for independent skilled migration.
But accountancy bodies say demand for accountants is outstripping supply, while institutions fear the move could jeopardise up to $2.5 billion in revenue.
They fear a re-run of 2009, when skilled migration reforms precipitated a downturn that has stripped $3bn a year from education exports.
Latest figures suggest about 28,000 foreigners study accountancy at degree level, representing 12 per cent of about 230,000 overseas higher education enrolments.
But the International Education Association of Australia said far more were at risk.
It said accountancy was effectively interchangeable with the broader field of management and commerce, which attracts one in two international higher education students.
“Many segue into accounting once they find their feet and work out the finance and tax systems,” said IEAA executive director Phil Honeywood.
“Accounting is the professional end game of a business degree.”
With international higher education tuition fees totalling $5bn a year, accountancy alone could be bringing in between $600 million and $2.5bn in fees.
The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations said qualified accountants are in surplus and that all three categories – general, management and taxation accountants – should be removed from the Skilled Occupation List.
“Employer sponsored migration is more appropriate to meet labour market needs,” it said.
Mr Honeywood said the move would create “enormous perception problems. It will indicate that Australia doesn’t need any more accountants.
“Students who had hoped to get employer sponsorship will no longer see us as a study destination.”
Monash University demographer Bob Birrell said Australia hosted about 60,000 25 to 34-year-old foreigners with management and commerce degrees. Just 30 per cent worked in management or professional positions, compared to 67 per cent of their domestic equivalents.
“We do have a very substantial stock of these people in Australia,” he said.