Sydney: Indian students are turning their backs on Australia after a spate of violent attacks and a crackdown on migration scams, threatening a $13 billion (Rs63,050 crore) industry, education officials said on Thursday.

IDP Education, Australia’s largest student recruiter in India, said enquiries at its 14 offices had dropped by 80% amid a storm of negative publicity over alleged racial violence and exploitation.

“The way this story’s been reported in India has very much overplayed what’s happening," a spokesman said. “We are working hard to just remind people that Australian education is fundamentally high quality and we think that we can change attitudes in the next few months."

Slowdown ahead? A June picture of protests in Sydney after attacks on Indian students in Melbourne. Torsten Blackwood / AFP

Executive director Dennis Murray said vocational colleges would be particularly hard hit, with early indications of an industry-wide slowdown in 2010.

Student groups have said about 1,000 international scholars, mainly Indian, were already “in limbo" after their colleges closed and the number could hit 5,000 when the shake-out is complete.

“I think you would have to say that in parts of the industry, and that’s probably in the private vocational institutions in particular, there’s an immediate effect starting to show," Murray said. “So next year’s going to be tough for them. For universities, (it will be) probably tough too, but less so. Everybody would be carefully watching the figures."

This week, Canberra vowed to clamp down on unscrupulous migration agents and private colleges after a TV investigation found students could pay for fake English language certificates, needed to apply for residency.

The ABC’s Four Corners programme reported that some Indian families had been left broke after sending children to Australia for courses that failed to deliver any educational value.

The revelations further damaged Australia’s reputation after a series of attacks on Indian students prompted demonstrations in Melbourne and Sydney last month.

Murray said Australia’s relationship with India was durable and, though he anticipated a “bit of a glitch, I think we will bounce back."

“When I first got involved in India, we thought we’d be lucky to get 5,000 students; we’ve now got 95,000 students from India," he said. “Growth has been too quick and wrong in some of the sectors, particularly where it’s linked to immigration, but India’s not going to go away."