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Australian International Education and Overseas Student Welfare

Humanity denied in a dash for cash. FOR international education expert Simon Marginson there is no getting away from our humanity when diagnosing the failures of Australia’s international education industry.

A preoccupation with revenue generation in the face of chronic government underfunding, the reflex denial of problems, and the lack of care and rights for students caught in the nowhere zone between states all contributed to last year’s crisis in student welfare. It culminated in protests and frenzied diplomacy with India after foreign students were targeted in a spate of sometimes deadly assaults. At its root it has been a failure to see and value international students as people, Marginson says. “We separate them from the circle of our humanism, the generosity we extend to ourselves and perhaps to short term visitors,” the University of Melbourne’s professor of higher education tells the HES on the eve of the publication of International Student Security.

Having both worked within the international education sector and conducted similar research in 90s (which was definitely not encouraged) I commend the authors on digging into these issues. One I always have had issues with is that ESOS and CRICOS supposed to ensure the quality of experience for overseas students, has unwittingly encouraged a form of “apartheid” in Austraian education between overseas and domestic students.

However, related, I think the authors are being too polite and skirting round an issue that has become apparent in contemporary Australia which has impacted international education sector, i.e. a reemergence of a nuanced neo white Australian or racial policy (narrative) cloaked by and articulated in the media and politics by debate about identity, refugees, English skills, population, environment etc. In the 90s this was exemplified by open comments like “all these (Asian) students get free courses, flats and cars”, while more recently it has been “they (Indians and Chinese) are rorting study for PR in dodgy colleges (bad private education)”

Ironically, one of the more influential informants for this policy has been Monash University’s Centre for Population and Urban Research CPUR, especially Dr.Bob Birrell who has been consulted by DIAC, politicians and media, yet had past form as an anti immigration protagonist (CPUR in fact has links with the US based Federation for American (anti) Immigration Reform) .

Why? Sad indictment of Australian society is that both Birrell and the CPUR give the answers that predominantly white Anglo Australians want to hear, i.e. negatives or (mis)leading questions about issues related to non English speaking background (NESB) Australians and foreigners i.e. Asians, refugees, skilled migration, cultural assimiliation etc.

It would be a very useful study to look at the racial and cultural attitudes in Australia now, as many both within and outside of Australia have seen racism raise its head and become mainstream, through sometimes vocal, but usually unpsoken attitudes of ageing baby boomers, their children, media and politicians.

Ironically, Monash University’s name sake, Sir John Monash, was the child of economic refugees for whom English was a second language, non mainstream religion i.e. Jewish, and yet became a great Australian, what would he think?

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