The foreign-student bubble has burst
留学生泡沫破裂

【双语】拜拜,学位 Bye degrees-书迷号 shumihao.com

AUSTRALIA’S OLDEST university campus should be heaving on a sunny autumn afternoon. Before the pandemic, the University of Sydney hosted more than 70,000 students. At lunchtime they would cram into its cafés and crowd onto its lawns. Now its grounds are practically deserted. Although Australia has almost quashed covid-19, social-distancing rules forced the campus to close in March, and only a few stragglers have stayed on amid the historic sandstone and modern plate glass.

在一个阳光明媚的秋日午后,澳大利亚历史最悠久的大学校园内本应是一派人头攒动的景象。疫情发生前,悉尼大学有七万多名学生,午餐时间他们会一窝蜂地涌向学校的餐厅和草坪。而现在,到处都空荡荡的。尽管澳大利亚差不多已经遏制住了新冠肺炎,但在保持社交距离的规定下,悉尼大学不得不在3月关闭,只剩少量散兵游勇穿行在古老的砂岩建筑和现代的玻璃屋之间。

The abrupt halt to international travel is even more painful for Australian universities than their counterparts in other English-speaking countries, because they lean more heavily on revenue from foreign students. More than 440,000 such students enrolled in Australian institutes of higher education in 2019. At the last count, they took up roughly 30% of all places. Almost 40% of them came from a single country, China.

与其他英语国家的大学相比,突如其来的国际旅行禁令让澳大利亚大学的处境更加艰难,因为它们更加依赖来自留学生的收入。2019年,超过44万名留学生在澳大利亚高校就读。根据最新统计,留学生约占高校学生总数的30%。其中近四成来自一个国家——中国。

The foreign students are lucrative. In 2018 they brought in almost A$9bn ($5.8bn) in revenue—just over a quarter of all university funding, and far more per head than local students bring in through fees and government subsidies. The boom turned education into Australia’s fourth-biggest export, behind coal, iron ore and natural gas. It funded world-class research centres, shiny new learning facilities and vast collections of art. Vice-chancellors’ pay packets swelled (in big universities they rake in well over A$1m). Campuses bulged to sizes, as an academic at La Trobe University puts it, “matched only by the epic institutions in India and China”.

留学生就是摇钱树。2018年,他们带来了近90亿澳元(58亿美元)的收入,是大学所获总资金的四分之一略多,按人均计远高于本地学生通过学费和政府补助贡献的收入。留学生激增使教育成为澳大利亚仅次于煤炭、铁矿石和天然气的第四大出口产品。它为建成世界一流的研究中心、崭新的教学设施和大量的艺术品收藏提供了资金支持。校长们的工资袋鼓了起来(一些大型院校校长的年薪远超过100万澳元)。大学纷纷开疆扩土,用拉筹伯大学(La Trobe University)一名教师的话说,校园面积已经“唯有印度和中国那些庞大的学府可相提并论”。

For years, this has been the subject of heated political debate. Universities say they were forced to woo foreign students because the government does not give them enough money to cover their rising costs. Michael Spence, the vice-chancellor of the University of Sydney, says: “The education of domestic students doesn’t break even.” If Australia is “more dependent on student fees than comparable systems around the world,” he argues, “that’s a decision successive governments have made.”

多年来,这一直在引发激烈的政治辩论。大学表示,吸引留学生是无奈之举,因为政府没有提供足够的经费来支付不断上涨的成本。悉尼大学校长施迈克(Michael Spence)表示:“本国学生的教育经费不足以维持收支平衡。”如果说澳大利亚“对学费的依赖度比世界其他有着类似教育制度的国家更甚,”他指出,“那也是历届政府的决策使然。”

Some in the current conservative coalition government retort that universities have brought the crisis on themselves. They “bet big on the international-student dollar” and “have become badly over-exposed”, James Paterson, a senator, recently declared. Vice-chancellors have “privatised the profits” from foreign students, “building Taj Mahals to themselves”, a conservative commentator complains. Even some of those employed by universities are critical. “It wasn’t a Ponzi scheme,” says the academic at La Trobe, “but it’s in that ballpark.”

而当前保守党联合政府中的一些人反驳说是大学自己惹火烧身。参议员詹姆斯·佩特森(James Paterson)最近公开表示,大学“在国际学生带来的收入上押下重注”,因而“风险极高”。一名保守派评论员抱怨说,校长们把来自留学生的“收益私有化”,“为自己打造泰姬陵般的奢华住所”。就连大学的一些雇员也持批评态度。“这不是旁氏骗局,”上文提到的那名拉筹伯大学的教师说,“但也差得不多。”

Now, argues Salvatore Babones of the Centre for Independent Studies, a think-tank, “the chickens have come home to roost.” Australia’s academic year starts in January, so as covid-19 first appeared in China, a flight ban locked out an army of its students just as they should have been enrolling. Some wriggled back in through third countries, but Australia has since closed its borders to non-citizens, and they are not likely to reopen until at least the end of the year.

智库独立研究中心(Centre for Independent Studies)的萨尔瓦托雷·巴伯恩斯(Salvatore Babones)认为,现在已到了“自食其果”的时候。澳大利亚的学年从1月开始,因此当新冠肺炎最初在中国爆发时,飞行禁令正好将大批本应入学的学生挡在了门外。一些人通过第三国辗转入境,但此后澳大利亚对非本国公民关闭了边境,并且至少在今年年底之前都不太可能重新开放。

Universities Australia, which represents the industry, is not sure exactly how many foreign students it has lost. The University of Sydney has fallen 17% short of its enrolment target for 2020, according to Mr Spence, and now faces a budget shortfall of A$470m. Across the industry, revenue could fall by A$3bn-4.6bn, according to Universities Australia, putting 21,000 jobs at risk, many of them in research.

行业组织澳洲大学联盟(Universities Australia)表示,不确定这次到底流失了多少留学生。施迈克估计,悉尼大学的注册入学人数比2020年的目标低了17%,现在面临4.7亿澳元的预算缺口。澳洲大学联盟的数据显示,整个行业的收入可能会减少30亿到46亿澳元,导致2.1万人面临失业的风险,其中很多是研究人员。

Since students who do not enroll this year will not pay fees in 2021 or after, a quick bounceback seems impossible. Peter Hurley of Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute, another think-tank, estimates that the industry might lose A$19bn over the next three years. Building projects and casual staff have already been axed.

由于今年没有注册的学生不会支付2021年或者之后的学费,大学的财务状况看来不可能很快好转。另一家智库维多利亚大学米切尔研究所(Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute)的彼得·赫尔利(Peter Hurley)估计,未来三年,整个行业可能损失190亿澳元。一些建筑工程被取消,临时工被解雇。

So far, the government has been disinclined to help. It says it will still fund the places of domestic students, even if they drop out rather than embrace online learning. But it has excluded universities from its A$60bn wage-subsidy scheme, JobKeeper. Dan Tehan, the education minister, has called for “a greater focus on domestic students”.

截至目前,政府还无意伸出援手。它表示仍会提供资助以保证本国学生的入学机会,即使他们选择退学而不是上网课。但政府已将大学排除在600亿澳元的“保住工作”(JobKeeper)工资补贴计划之外。教育部长丹·特翰(Dan Tehan)呼吁“加大对本国学生的关注”。

Few seem to think universities will fail. Smaller, regional institutions are in the most danger, but since they are an important source of jobs, state and federal governments might be persuaded to prop them up. They will, however, have to shrink to survive. Universities will be “smaller in staffing and smaller in revenue”, says John Dewar, La Trobe’s vice-chancellor. There could be “a massive change in the types of courses they offer”, Mr Hurley predicts. That seems to be just what the government wants. ■

似乎没有人认为大学会倒闭。最危险的是规模较小的地方性大学,但由于它们是重要的就业源泉,州政府和联邦政府可能会被说服,为它们提供支持。然而它们将不得不瘦身以求生存。拉筹伯大学校长约翰·杜瓦(John Dewar)表示,大学的“人员配备和收入都会减少”。“大学提供的课程类型可能会发生巨大的改变。”赫尔利预言。这似乎正中政府的下怀。