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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 October 2005, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
Australian poor students warning
Aboriginal mural
Australia's Aboriginals are under-represented in university
Following plans to increase university fees, the Australian education department is reporting a reduction in numbers of disadvantaged students.

In the UK, the government is running a student finance awareness week, in an attempt to tackle fears that higher fees will deter applications.

But in the higher education system in Australia, there has been a fall in poorer and indigenous students.

The report also shows Australia attracting more overseas students.

Last year saw the controversial announcement of increases in student fees of up to 25% - prompting protests by students.

Aboriginal students

Figures released by the Department of Education, Science and Training, published in an annual report, show that the proportion of students from poorer backgrounds had reduced.

There were also reductions in proportions of other groups seen as being disadvantaged in Australia, such as indigenous Aboriginal people and those from rural areas.

About a quarter of the Australian population is identified as being from a background of "low socio-economic status" and this year's figures show that only 14% of the student population are from this group.

This represents a slight fall, at a time when there is an overall trend for a rising number of students - with the total enrolment increasing by 1.6% to 945,000 in 2004. Almost 230,000 of these students are from overseas.

The report highlights the decline in students identified as indigenous - and their substantial under-representation among the student population.

In terms of higher education funding, the report shows Australia is spending a proportion of its gross domestic product (GDP) that is higher than the average for developed OECD countries and the European Union.

Overseas students

But the Australian higher education system is proving successful at recruiting overseas students - which is seen as an increasingly lucrative global market.

There is a higher proportion of overseas students in Australian universities than in any other industrialised country - about one in five of the student population.

The annual report shows that Chinese students are the largest group among overseas students in Australia. More than 80% of overseas students in Australia are from Asia, including Malaysia, Singapore and India.

The recruitment of overseas students has grown by an average annual rate of 14% for the past three years, says the report.

In the UK, higher education faces a major change next year. A drive to increase student numbers will be funded by the introduction of higher tuition fees, which will be offset by a package of support for less well-off students.

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