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International students: Studying down under too pricey

Young Chinese students that have just received their graduation diplomas from the Australian National University in Canberra, facing their backs to the camera.
Morten Falch Sortland | Getty Images
Young Chinese students that have just received their graduation diplomas from the Australian National University in Canberra, facing their backs to the camera.

23-year old Singaporean Atheena Som decided against studying in Australia this year, opting to stay in Singapore where tuition and living costs are more affordable.

"I wanted to study in Australia for the experience, but the cost of living and tuition there deterred me. I did not feel the quality of degree I'd get there was worth spending so much," said Atheena, who studies at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. "I stayed in Singapore for the benefit of subsidy, and cost of living is cheaper when we live with our parents," she added.

According to an HSBC report published this week, Atheena is not alone: the survey of 4,500 parents in 15 countries found the perception of the price and quality of Australian education is deteriorating.

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The price of studying in Australia, including annual fees and cost of living, amounted to $42,000 a year, according to HSBC, making it the most expensive of the countries surveyed.

Despite high costs, the perception of quality of education in Australia was disproportionately lower. Only 25 percent of parents ranked Australia among the top three nations for education, compared with 51 percent and 38 percent for the U.S. and the U.K., respectively.

Australia has the highest concentration of international students in the world at 20 percent, well above the 7 percent global average, thus a reduction in numbers could hit the economy.

"Australia's high quality of life and proximity to Asia has enabled it to historically punch above its weight in attracting international students. However, it's imperative that Australia continues to demonstrate educational value to ensure that the in-flow of international students continues," said Graham Heunis, head of retail banking and wealth management for HSBC in Australia.

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While Australia is still a popular choice for Asian parents, it's losing popularity among the Chinese.

Chinese parents ranked Australia behind the U.S., U.K., Germany and Hong Kong in terms of quality of education, a worrying sign as China has been the greatest source of international students for Australia over the past decade.

"Attracting Chinese student intake will be a key factor in maintaining education's role as a key export sector for Australia," Heunis added.

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23-year old Singaporean Zac Lee, who studies at Australian university UWA told CNBC he found living costs in Australia relatively high, but believes the costs are worth it.

"It definitely feels more expensive here than in Singapore... but I've had a great experience and learned certain things that I probably wouldn't have had I stayed in Singapore," he said.

"I'll be graduating year end and will be going for an interview at a reputable architectural college in London for my Master's program so I guess it's finally paying off," he added.

Following Australia, Singapore is the second most expensive city to study of the 15 countries evaluated, with costs amounting to $39,229 per year, followed by the U.S. at $36,229 and the U.K. at $35,045.

India is the cheapest country to study in; a full year's study costs $5,642. The quality of education ranked eighth in the survey.