Are Chinese students paying too much to study in Australia?



The cost of studying in Australia is higher than in any other country. Photo source:



“I just worked for five hours, so I am a little tired.” Said Lily, who is an international student studying in the University of Sydney and has been in Sydney for five months.

About three months ago, she fund a part-time job to sell box lunch in the train station, and she could get 10 dollar every hour. “Though the salary is very low, it can reduce the pressure of my life.”

Actually, the salary of this kind of part-time job is below the average, which is about 14.5 dollar per hour. But most of the international students choose to find a part-time to reduce the pressure of their life just like Lily.

“I can use this money to buy an apartment about 100 Square meters with three bedrooms!”

“I am not the second generation of the rich, and I just come from an ordinary family. My tuition fee is AU$40,000 per year and the cost of living every year is about AU$15,000, which exchanged to Chinese Yuan is about 280,000 Yuan.

So, when I finish my two years’ study, I have to cost about 560,000 Yuan. In my hometown, which is a small city in China, I can use this money to buy an apartment about 100 Square meters with three bedrooms!”

According to a recent report, the cost of study in Australia is higher than in any other country such as the US and UK. The total cost for international student study in Australia, including annual fees and the cost of living, is calculated at USD 42,000 a year.


屏幕快照 2016-04-28 上午12.00.58
Chinese students have a large proportion in USYD


Also, Australia has the most proportion of international students—about 20 percent of the country’s higher education enrolments are international, compared to the global average of about 7 percent. Whenever you walk around your campus, there are always people of different nationalities speaking different languages. Among those, Chinese students have a large proportion.

“My parents pay my tuition fee and the cost of living. Actually, they pay the fee by their saving. So I choose to earn some money during my spare time to reduce the pressure of my family.” Lily said with the phone in her hand.

” I often pay attention to the rate and exchange some money”

“I just exchanged my Chinese Yuan to 5ooo Australian Dollar using the app in my phone. The exchange rate of the Australian Dollar to Chinese Yuan is changing in recent months, so I often pay attention to the rate and exchange some money for my study and life when the rate is appropriate to me. Actually, this can help me save some money.”


A screenshot of Lily’s phone when she was exchanging Chinese Yuan to Australian dollar



According to Australian dollar rate, there is a bad news for Chinese students, which means that Chinese students are now likely to get less Australian dollar in exchange for their money currency.

The international student fee t is 140 per cent higher than the domestic fee

The universities in Australia publish both the domestic and International students’ fee on the school website, including the University of Sydney. In the website, take the Master of Commence as an example, which has a large proportion of Chinese students, we can see the study fee for International students is AU$40,000 per year, compared to the domestic student fee which is AU$29,500 per year.

This means that the international student fee in this subject is 140 per cent higher than the domestic fee. Actually, all the subjects have the same phenomenon—international students have to pay more than domestic students.

Simply put, international students are big business for universities and for the economy. Even so, the university increases the international tuition fee every year.

The number of progressed application for the fellowship is limited

The Australia Awards are international scholarships and fellowships funded by the Australian government, which are available to nationals and citizens from eligible countries, which is Asia, the Pacific, Middle East and Africa.

 The Australia Awards Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships are funded by the Australian Government, and aims to support the internationalization of the Australian higher education especially the postgraduate-level study and research.

There are also eligible countries, which are in the round of Americas, Asia, Europe and Middle East. The application for the scholarship and fellowship of 2017 is now open and will be closed on 30 June 2016, and it must be submitted using the Endeavour Online application system.

Though there are different kinds of scholarships and fellowships for international students to apply, the number of progressed application is limited. So it is not a good way for international students especially Chinese students to reduce the pressure of studying in Australia.

 “The universities see us as cash cows!”

About two decades ago, there weren’t too many Chinese students, while in recent years, we can see a marked difference. More and more Chinese students come to Australia to have a higher degree.

Some of them want to have a high quality of education, some want to become the permanent residence in Australia, and others may want to avoid the intense competition. No matter what reasons, more and more Chinese students choose to study in Australia.


Image source:


The average international students pay is around AU$42,000 annually, about 2 times as much as domestic students. International students contributed about AU$15 billion to the Australian every year, which makes the higher education the third biggest export.


For the universities in Australia, it is a good way to raise their revenue. So we will not surprised to here the Chinese students saying “the universities see us as cash cows!”


Congying Li

SID: 450487970

Word Count: 950 words


Chinese corporations pay less than $12 an hour for international students in Sydney.

Vicky Li has to finish her assignments earlier and work for 7 hours the next day. Photo: Kai Zhang
Vicky Li has to finish her assignments earlier and work for 7 hours the next day. Photo: Kai Zhang

Chinese corporations normally pay less than $12 for international students, especially Chinese students who are desperate for jobs across Sydney.

Some of the corporations only give the students chances to work as so-called internship workers without any payment. And the students will not be guaranteed for future salaries.

The wage of most jobs listed in two Chinese websites and are displayed “negotiable”. After calling several companies’ numbers, the result shows most of the employers offer lower than $12 an hour. While the minimum legal wage in Australia is $16.87.

The underpayment of Australian restaurants and cafes was exposed as early as the year of 2013, when a major Fairfax Media investigation discovered that more than 40 restaurants were paying their employees $8 an hour.

The situation in Chinese work places is not better that not only the restaurants and cafes exploit international students. Many of the illegal corporations are agencies, convenient shops and even IT companies.

Chinese student Vicky Li majored in Information Technology has worked part-time in a small Chinese IT company, and was paid $8 an hour after one month’s no-payment work. She also has worked at a Chinese restaurant near her living place.

“It is very difficult to find an internship in a local IT company because of the language barrier. However, small Chinese IT companies will not offer you actual salary at most time.” Vicky said.

She revealed that the manager of the company is a friend of her aunt. Otherwise she will not get any payment. She knew other Chinese students or even Australian citizen who was originally from China working in this small company were paid nothing.

These companies are taking advantages of the international students, because of their needs for working experience. The employers want to run the firm without paying one dollar for the workers.

Another Chinese student has worked in an agency company helping people dealing with their visa and school applications. “The boss gave promise that if we finished three months’ internship, he will consider about paying us wages according to our performances.” He said. “But the boss will never be satisfied with your work, and now I have quit from it.”

I tried to approach the managers from those companies, but no reply was made. However, a Chinese international student revealed that the manager was talking about the high cost of rent and other infrastructures that he cannot offer more to a part-time worker.

Most of the Chinese students are working without contracts. They get the money either by cash or bank transfer without paying the tax. These students ignore the restriction of 40 work hours every fortnight, and are vulnerable to be deported back to China.

These students are called “black workers” translated from Chinese. “It’s a very common phenomenon in Chinese work places in Sydney.” Said by Gao, who is a Chinese student studying at UNSW and working in a restaurant near the university. “The boss told us that we should not worry about being punished by the government for overtime employment.”

“We don’t have choice to get higher payments, because every Chinese restaurant gives you such low wages. So I have to work longer.” Gao added and expressed her discontent about the situation.

According to the report by the Department of Education and Training of Australian Government, Chinese international students enrolled in Australian schools was the largest group among all the nationalities. The population rose up to 152,898 by the end of 2014. However, the work opportunities are not enough.

Stephanie Zhao told me that the restaurant she worked in had many backup part-time labors. “If you don’t want this job, others will replace you. The boss won’t care.” She said.

Stephanie had to work at free time and earn $10 an hour, despite the very heavy workload in university. “The life cost here in Sydney is very high, my wage for one week cannot even cover my room rent in the city.”

Australia is the most expensive destination for international students in the world.

“I was not born in a very rich family, only work and study at the same time can help to reduce my parents’ load.” Zhao felt helpless and upset.

Clifton Evers was an Australian teacher now working in a Chinese university. He previously taught the language course in Sydney and had known some worse situations. Many of his Chinese students were earning less than $8 an hour in 2010.

“I asked them why they didn’t try to work in a local company and many told me that they thought their English wasn’t good enough.” Evers said.

He encouraged his students to get out of the comfort zone and tried harder if they didn’t want to be exploited. Some of them did have breakthroughs.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is the department that is actually responsible for the working conditions in Australia. But the Ombudsman makes little difference every year regarding to the amount of complaints and inquiries. In 2012, the number of complaints reached 52,000. $1.1 million wages were clawed back last year for about 700 visa holders.

The foreign workers were often not fully aware of their rights under Australian laws in workplace. “Youth, language and cultural barriers” could be the reasons that made them vulnerable to be exploited.

“We are foreign students, and we have no idea of our rights. What we can do is to be stronger.” Said by Vicky.

To Serve International Students


According to the ABS, Australia hosted 589,860 international students in 2014.

Ballpark calculations show that we, as a country, could generate up to 15,000 tons of edible international student meat per year.That’s more than 100 million dollars, being conservative 1.

Eating our international students, then, could be a huge revenue stream for Aussies.


Data shows that international students have higher chances to suffer a violent crime. They’re three times more likely to live in overcrowded dwellings than domestic students, they pay up to six times more university fees 2 and twice more for public transport.

When one comes to Australia as an international student is required to pay for mandatory medical checks,  medical insurance and a student VISA. They have limits to how much they can work, they often have worse jobs and tend to pay more in required training and certification -RSA, RCG, white card, green card, etc.- to access them.

Additionally they’re more vulnerable to cheap labour and exploitation. If you’re unlucky you can end up being paid under $8 an hour.


It may seem they’re being sucked out the narrow, all but literally. If we’re just looking for profit we’re doing great, aren’t we?

The next logical step toward benefit would be, as the government probably is already contemplating, to literally eat them. This is the kind of proactive, out of the box approach that we desperately need to thrive in an increasingly competitive global environment. A modest proposal, if you like.

Then why we’re not already enjoying yummy postgrad dumplings  and uploading the pictures on Instagram? Some argue it could derive into an economic hindrance. I’ll explain why it won’t.

It turns out international students may be stubborn at times. In 2009 they protested in Sydney and Melbourne claiming equal rights. Or specifically, the right to access concession transportation cards, which usually grant a 50 percent discount in public transport fares. At the time Victoria and NSW were the only two states where only Australian residents could access this assistance

Victoria reacted, eventually. NSW didn’t.

NSW launched the new Opal Card in 2014, and the subsequent concession Opal Card this February. Only domestic students can access it.

Best case scenario: you can pay $8,4 a week for unlimited travel. That’s around $436 for travelling every week of the year if you’re good using your Opal. When I reached out Transport NSW for a word on alternatives for international students, they urged them to buy the 365-day ticket. That’s $1,600 per year. If international students don’t start rioting because of that, eating them probably won’t make it either.

According to Transport NSW, international students weren’t a priority long before Opal Card, so it isn’t to blame for the situation.

“It’s long-standing government policy that Australians and recipients of those scholarships [Endeavour, Australia Awards] have access to concession fares. That existed before Opal.”

Transport NSW representative

In fact, other institutions followed the trend. Public pools are being asked to request for the concession sticker of international students to grant them student discounts. If you happen to be an international student, no sticker for you.

University of Sydney student Xue Chen was recently asked for a concession sticker to access to student fees in the North Sydney Pool . She claims she felt “confused” and “depressed”.

My point is: NSW can make students feel completely miserable and it’ll still maintain the title of the state with the highest number of international students. International students will put up with whatever we throw at them.

Therefore, it doesn’t matter if international students generated $15,7bn and 151,800 fixed term jobs in 20143. It doesn’t matter if they’re a magnet for tourism, fundamental for research and development and to address skill shortages, or if they have a crucial role maintaining our education system and foreign relations.

It doesn’t matter because eating international students would generate $100m and would unlikely have a negative effect in their visits. It may not seem like a big deal, but from a strict revenue rationale, $15.8bn is better than $15.7bn.


Still, there’s a small chance on this decision being counter-productive in the long term if international students return to their old habits. On the other hand, judging the precedents, it seems highly unlikely: our whole policy-making process is based in the assumption that no matter how hard you screw international students, they’ll keep coming in figures.

So far it has worked just fine. Eating them, then, is more a continuation of current policies rather than its abrupt revision.

However, even in the event of international students abandoned their passive stand. Even if they protested and stopped at the perspective of being eaten;  even then, with the economic loss it would imply, it could be for good.

Some Australians have been pointing out the annoying nature of international students. Let the discussions regarding the concession Opal Card serve as example.

Some of the comments are made in a powerful but unarticulated way we should understand: “If you have such a problem why not go to Uni in your own country and then you can get your student bus price lol (sic)”. Or “The choice is for international students to come to study in Australia. Its (sic) not as if anyone has sugarcoated the cost that you are potentially paying to make the travel”.

The evident hostility towards international students may be the best proof of their negative effect in our country and culture. It’s a visceral reaction against something foil that is indubitably there, but that escapes a definition. They may contribute with an impressive amount of money, hard work and endurance. Even the claims of international students lowering the bar of our education may have been proven to be untrue.



Nevertheless we still recognise we don´t like them. They’re change, they’re the other. They’re the end of Australia as we know it.

And yes, cultures mutate, evolve and perish as a natural process: the ruins of ancient Greece fertilised modern western civilisation. Rome succumbed to brutality. Pre-Columbian empires are forever gone. Even Australia has transitioned from totally different stages in recent decades.

Nonetheless, one cannot but wonder if Australian culture in 2015 is not the epitome of human spirit and deserves to be preserved, forever immutable, to be a symbol of the marvels achievable by mankind. It probably does.

1 Calculations made with 25kg of meat per student on average and a market price of $9/kg.

2 Percentages of domestic student and international student fee contribution available here. Calculations done with percentage of international tertiary students and total fee contribution to higher education.

3 Jobs per international student in 2009 data provided by the ATN. Data extrapolated using international student numbers from 2014.