“Basically you do the master’s and then you can do whatever you want in their economy.”
He said work rights were highly valued by international students because they gave people the time and money to apply for migration.
The UK visa threat came on top of the reputational threat to Australia from fires, he said, with parents of would-be students reconsidering plans to send their children to Australia.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus has been slowing down enrolments for semester one of this year. It’s estimated the Group of Eight major universities alone have 3000 students quarantined in Wuhan and this has the potential to cost $90 million in foregone fees and postponement costs.
On Friday, Education Minister Dan Tehan said the government was pushing universities to diversify their enrolments to new markets because it wanted a more robust business model for the sector.
“Changes to post-study work rights and the introduction of the Destination Australia scholarship program will encourage more international students to study outside our capital cities, creating new opportunities for regional Australia,” he said.
“To support our international student sector, our government is working to strengthen relationships with other countries, reform our qualifications framework and encourage greater collaboration between industry and higher education providers to make the Australian experience even more attractive.”
He said there were nearly a quarter of a million jobs in higher education, which made it a priority for the government.
New figures on Friday showed enrolments from India went up faster in the last few months of last year, compared with enrolments from China where the growth rate slowed to just 0.4 per cent in December.
Those trends happened before the fires, coronavirus and the UK visa threat but Mr Honeywood said all global students and their parents were watching how the Australian government responded to the series of threats.
The chief executive of Universities Australia, Catriona Jackson, said she believed the reputational challenges would “calm down over time”.
“These issues are not isolated to universities. All parts of the economy have to deal with them,” she said.