There’s a good chance the person sitting next to you is.

International students pay anywhere from $80,000 to $150,000 for a three to four year bachelor’s degree—and that’s before you add in the costs of textbooks and uni admin fees.

Sound ridiculous? That’s because it is.

Here’s what international students have to cough up to attend Curtin.But they can just put it on their HECs like everybody else, right?

Wrong.

Unlike domestic students, international students don’t have the option of Commonwealth (government) supported funding. They have to pay upfront; and, what’s worse, they have to pay over $10,000 to get an offer letter before applying for their student VISAs (for those of you studying engineering, this will set you back $18,300).

Since 2013, Curtin has received about $830 million dollars in tuition fees from onshore overseas students studying at the Bentley campus.

Australia’s international education export sector is currently worth around $28 billion, making it the country’s third largest export.

Yet, for some reason, the federal government continues to cut budgets and has frozen university funding, forcing universities to cut staff and resources.

So, what’s happening to the billions of dollars in tuition fees being paid by international students?

Well, no one really knows. There aren’t any requirements on how Australian universities spend funds, and they don’t  have to explain how they spend the money.

Australia is not alone in its lack of transparency with spending, however it does appear to be behind other Western countries like England and the United States.

The Grattan Institute (2015) found that universities earn up to $3.2 billion more from students than they spend on teaching. They also reported that more than $2 billion in teaching surpluses were funding research (but why?).

Research spending has more than tripled in the last two decades. International student fees are increasing by four to five percentage points a year—and between 2003 to 2013, tuition fees and living costs increased by 166 per cent.

But what do dramatic increases in research spending and international student fees have to do with anything?

Well, thanks to the worlds obsession with university league tables (which is largely based on research), universities are faced with increasing pressure to produce more research.

More quality research increases the chance of moving up the table.

Government research programs finance about half of university research, with some of the balance coming from donations and corporate sponsors—but what about the rest?

Enter international student fees.

Now, it’s easy to point the finger at the “government of the day” for cutting and freezing funding, but there is no guarantee that any extra funding would even be spent on teaching and resources.

Universities should be forced to be more transparent with their spending.

They should be monitored to ensure that they’re using funds on student and teaching services.

And they need to develop funding models that aren’t so reliant on the exploitation of international students through colossal tuition fees.