UNIVERSITIES will struggle to attract international students unless graduates have better access to work experience in Australia, a new study shows.
International students contribute billions of dollars to the Australian economy each year and help to subsidise the cost of education for local students.
The Deakin University study shows that opportunities to work after graduating have become increasingly important in shaping international students' choices about where to study.
Study co-author Cate Gribble said employers in China, a major provider of international students, were looking for more than job applicants with Australian degrees.
They wanted employees who had already worked in foreign countries such as Australia.
The study found many international students were unhappy with their opportunities to gain practical experience in Australia before returning home.
It was based on interviews with about 130 international students studying nursing, accounting and engineering. The researchers also interviewed employers, government officials, academics and university staff.
Dr Gribble said universities, employers and the government should provide better work experience opportunities for international students to ensure Australia remained an attractive study destination.
''I think international students might consider going to other places where there are more opportunities for work placements,'' she said.
Research conducted by the Australian government shows international students contributed $15.7 billion in export income last year.
Australia attracted 378,535 enrolments from full-fee-paying international students in the year to May, an 8.5 per cent decline compared with the same period last year.
''For international students that's really difficult [to find work experience for them- selves] because they don't have their own networks,'' Dr Gribble said.