«Accordingly, we are not in a position to accept all students who would like to study in Victorian government schools in 2019,» it said.
«Please do not offer places at your school to education agents or direct applicants for 2019.»
Victoria is Australia’s most popular destination for international school students, with around 5000 full-fee paying international students currently enrolled in Victorian public schools.
International students pay around $15,000 per year to study at Victorian state schools, with this funding the department’s administrative costs, and schools’ teaching, welfare, language and support costs.
While some schools make a small profit off international students, many just break even because these students attract no state or federal funding.
International students who have already formally accepted offers to start their studies in term 3 will be unaffected by the changes, but others will have to defer until next year, with places subject to availability.
Bendigo Senior Secondary College principal Dale Pearce said he had to tell two Chinese students that they would no longer be able to study at his school next term.
«They feel like they’ve been left high and dry,» he said.
«We are picking up some frustration.»
Mr Pearce, who recently returned from an overseas trip to recruit international students, said the Education Department should have given schools more warning.
«We are committing time and money into our international student programs, including travelling overseas. Then we find out that there is no result at the end of all that because there are no places available.»
Around 20 international students, mainly from China, are enrolled at his school but the program has the capacity to increase by another dozen students.
«We run the risk of being trapped with a smaller enrolment than we would like and it will bring into question the viability of our program,» Mr Pearce said. «You need a critical mass to ensure the program is quality and economically viable.»
Essendon Keilor College principal David Adamson said his school would have to be more conservative when it came to recruiting international students.
«We have to take into account that we can’t continue to grow,» he said.
«When we go on marketing trips we will have to be very explicit.»
Staff at his school had been travelling to Vietnam and China to recruit students for more than 20 years. The school had recently been looking to expand into other countries, but will now have to reassess its strategy.
Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals president Sue Bell said the department needed to improve the way it monitored international student numbers.
«You’d like to think the department had good intelligence but it seems they didn’t,» she said.
«Schools have incurred expenses by recently sending people on recruitment trips overseas. It’s a glitch in the system.»
Ms Bell said international students injected diversity into schools, taught domestic students about other cultures and filled spaces in VCE classes, making them more viable.
A department spokeswoman said the cap, which the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority recommended to the Commonwealth Department of Education, ensured international students experienced a high quality of education and welfare support while studying in Victoria.
She said at the start of the year, Victoria was on track to have lower enrolments, but there had since been an unexpected growth in applications.
«International students are valued members of our school communities, bringing cultural and language diversity to our classrooms and connecting Victorian students to the world,» she said.
The majority of international students studying in Victorian state schools come from China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, India and Korea.
Many enrol during their senior years before moving on to university and TAFE.
Education Editor at The Age