In the wake of a series of attacks on Indian students, universities here are fearing that it could take years to restore the Australia’s reputation in India, with the families of Indian students instead preferring the U.S. and U.K., which they perceive to be safer destinations.

Victorian universities are fearing major decline in the number of Indian students’ enrolment by 50 per cent for next year, the The Age newspaper reported.

The drop has been due to the existing students who were planning to quit their courses here and over hundreds who were expected to shift to universities in other nations, the paper said.

Of the 4,65,000 foreign students in Australia 90,000 have been from India.

The report quoted La Trobe University’s international office acting director, Abizer Merchant, who said Indian student enrolment for next year was set to halve to 300 following a dramatic drop in enquiries and applications since the attacks in May and June.

“What’s aggravated the situation is the Indian media making it sound like racism rather than opportunistic crimes,” Mr. Merchant said. “A lot of Indian parents are now willing to pay USD 10,000 or more extra to send their children to the U.K. or the U.S. rather than Australia,” Mr. Merchant said, adding “Australia needs to rebuild its brand in India, but it’s going to take years.”

La Trobe has nearly 1,200 Indian students on campus.

However, he said a drop in Indian students would not affect the university’s finances because a surge in Chinese student enrolments was expected to cover the shortfall.

Australian Catholic University’s John Cameron said Indian student applications for next year were down 45 per cent nationally and 31 per cent in Victoria.

Other universities in Victoria also predicted declining trends including RMIT that reported a slight drop, Swinburne University also has predicted its Indian student population will also drop whereas Victoria University experienced a 25 per cent drop.

Ballarat University’s Wayne Robinson said safety fears among Indian students and their parents had resulted in an 18.1 per cent drop in enrolments between this year’s first and second semesters.

“Universities and the Federal Government have a lot of work to do to reassure not just India but every country that Australia is a wonderful place to come for university education,” he said.