NT hopes foreign students can lift economy

Brazilian Clarice Campos and Bangladesh's Sunday Mishu are students at Charles Darwin University.
Brazilian Clarice Campos and Bangladesh's Sunday Mishu are students at Charles Darwin University.

Some Australians might be surprised to know the nation's most valuable export industry after iron ore and coal mining is international students.

The $32 billion international education industry is just as important - if not more so - in Darwin as in Australia's biggest cities.

The Top End has dealt with a decline in its population and a weak economy since a resources boom during construction of the Inpex gas project.

Ahead of an election in August, the Northern Territory Labor Government is hoping education can play a key role in tackling both problems.

There had been a sharp jump in international students and the government is accelerating efforts to attract more as a key part of diversifying the Territory economy and creating local permanent jobs, Chief Minister Michael Gunner said on Wednesday.

There are currently more than 3300 international students in the NT, with the industry contributing an estimated $113 million in export revenue and supporting 484 ongoing jobs, he said.

That was up by 1270 students - or 62 per cent - since 2016, with the current aim to increase that to 10,000 by 2025, bringing more than $300 million in.

India, Nepal and China are the biggest markets.

"If you study somewhere and you love it you are more likely to stay," Mr Gunner told reporters.

"What we're seeing is a lot of our international students love it here and they are looking for jobs here as well so we are helping drive the population of the Northern Territory."

Brazilian woman Clarice Campos came to Darwin after receiving a scholarship to study a Masters in Professional Accounting at Charles Darwin University.

She has settled in the city with her husband and their baby son, preferring it to Perth where they previously lived.

"There were plenty of international jobs to apply for, I had only just finished my degree but quickly got a job with Metric Partners in my field," she said.

Bangladeshi student Sunday Mishu is studying a Bachelor of Humanitarian Aid and Development while working as a barman at the Darwin casino.

"In a big city there is so much competition nobody notices you, but in Darwin you can actually get noticed and you can be someone if you have that drive and that opportunity is an amazing thing," he said.

One problem is that CDU, the largest and only Northern Territory-based university, is struggling financially, posting a $21 million deficit last year and axing about 100 jobs.

It has also proposed cutting 35 Vocational, Education and Training courses that provides jobs for teachers and prepares people for a range of trades such as butchers and hairdressers.

However Mr Gunner said he was comfortable about CDU's future, pointing to the university's new $250 million CBD campus, backed with $100 million in federal funds and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility giving conditional approval for a $150 million concessional loan.

Australian Associated Press