Nearly three-quarters of Australians believe international students should be encouraged to stay in the country after completing their university studies, according to a survey.
Universities Australia has released research on perceptions of the tertiary sector on the eve of this week's higher education conference in Canberra.
About 80 per cent of 300 business representatives surveyed and 72 per cent of 1000 members of the public said international students should be encouraged to stay in Australia on completion of their studies, particularly if sponsored by an employer.
''However, some stakeholder respondents have voiced concerns that the university system is perceived to be too heavily reliant on income from international student enrolments,'' the report said.
''There is also a view that additional support, for instance with English language learning and better facilities such as affordable student housing, may be required.
''Participants were generally comfortable about the proportion of internationally students, at roughly 20 per cent.''
The study found Australian universities were generally well regarded, with 88 per cent of the surveyed public saying they would encourage their child or young people they knew to attend university.
Most saw the main role of universities to educate for skilled/professional jobs, with far fewer identifying the sector's contribution to research and development – something Universities Australia described as being of ''some concern''.
Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson said the study showed that people strongly valued international students, who helped build deep cultural ties with their fellow students and the wider community.
''International students are also playing a pivotal role in increasing our engagement with Asian nations during this Asian Century,'' she said.
''They are helping Australia forge valuable links with their home countries, providing a cross-cultural dialogue with domestic students and sustaining ongoing relationships with Australia in their post-student lives.''
A spokesman for Universities Australia said the polling involved qualitative and quantitative research, including focus groups and surveys of the public and business.
He said the data was weighted to be representative of the Australian population and the whole business community.
The higher education conference, running from Wednesday to Friday, will include keynote speeches by new Tertiary Education Minister Chris Bowen, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, Universities Australia chairman Glyn Davis, and former Treasury secretary Ken Henry.