THE University of Sydney has nearly regained its billion-dollar fortune after its annus horribilis caused by the global financial crisis, a new report says.The collapse in world share prices wiped 23 per cent off the university’s $1.15 billion invest-ment holdings during the furious fallout. To maintain financial liquidity, the university sold a number of equities at a loss of $45 million.Twelve months later, improving financial markets meant the value of the university’s investments rose from $877 million to $927 million. It recorded an operating surplus of $69 million in 2009 after a $167 million loss.The NSW Auditor-General, Peter Achterstraat, disclosed the significant rebound for the state’s 10 public universities yesterday in his annual report to Parliament.He warned, however, that the recovery may be fleeting, amid falling enrolments for foreign students, who contributed nearly 20 per cent of total revenue for NSW universities last year.Mr Achterstraat said the sector also faced an ageing staff base; a quarter of academics employed in NSW universities are 55 years or older and their skills could be lost when they retire.”Financial risks remain for universities,” Mr Achterstraat said. ”With the recovery in global financial markets remaining fragile, universities with overseas operations and those needing to fund capital works programs are at most risk. Capital funding is estimated at $2 billion for 2010 and 2011.”Yesterday the Universities Australia chief executive, Glenn Withers, said new international student numbers were falling substantially, buffeted by changes to the skilled migration policy, the fallout from the attacks on Indian students and a high Australian dollar.He said higher education visa applications for semester two were down by 20 per cent, with bigger falls being reported by agents for 2010-11.Over the past three years Macquarie University has had the highest percentage of foreign students, with more than 37 per cent of full-time enrolments from overseas.Wollongong also had high numbers and Sydney University and the University of NSW are rising.The vice-chancellor of Macquarie University, Steven Schwartz, said the impact of falling overseas student enrolments was too early to gauge.”We may be in a better position than most universities, at least in the short term,” he said. ”We have a strong [number] of students who are already on campus studying.”A Greens NSW MP, John Kaye, said the universities remained highly vulnerable.”An inevitable steep decline in foreign student enrolments and an ageing workforce could combine with another downturn in the economy to form the perfect triple-headed storm for the sector,” he said.