The New Zealand export education industry is distancing itself from Australia after a series of attacks on Indian students across the Tasman.

Education New Zealand chief executive Robert Stevens said he had been in touch with the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise office in India yesterday, urging the office to market New Zealand and Australia as "totally different societies".

There have been about 70 attacks on Indian students in Australia in the past 12 months, which left one student fighting for his life and prompted headlines such as "Australia, land of racists" in India.

Police said the attacks were partly racially motivated and partly because of a wider increase in opportunistic crimes.

"With reports on the attacks making headlines in India, it is not a good look for Australia," Mr Stevens said.

"What we want to do is to remind education agents in India that New Zealand is a different country to Australia, in the nicest possible way."

Indian students said the attacks in Melbourne were racially motivated. Last Friday Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressing concern during a call to Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Mr Rudd told Parliament on Monday: "I speak on behalf of all Australians when I say that we deplore and condemn these attacks, these are senseless acts of violence."

Earlier in the year, reports of education operators forcing students to live in cramped conditions and not delivering promised services also made headlines in Australia.

According to Australian government figures, Indian students make up 18 per cent of all foreign students, second only to the Chinese. The international student sector is its third-largest export earner, behind coal and iron ore, totalling A$13 billion ($16.2 billion) in 2007 to last year. The sector is worth $2 billion to New Zealand.

There are more Indian students in Australia (90,000) than the total number of foreign students in New Zealand (88,500).

"Inevitably, some Indian students in Australia will be looking to do their studies elsewhere," said Mr Stevens.

"Indian student numbers have been doubling over the last three years, but this could possibly increase the numbers quite drastically."

Education New Zealand said there are 6040 Indian students making up 7 per cent of foreign students in New Zealand. In the year to April, the largest group by nationality of international student arrivals came from India - 4108 - up from 2919 last year, Immigration New Zealand figures show.

"We are constantly competing with Australia, and constantly benchmarking ourselves with them, and time will tell if there'll be a surge in numbers," Mr Stevens said.