International Education in Immigration Population Politics
Does Australia want international students?
Most working in or with international education, plus international students, see the sector as a great success, but why not Australians in general?
If one takes notice of news reports and reader comments from mainstream Australian media related to international education, “foreign students”, student visas, work rights, immigration outcomes and population, they are overwhelmingly negative.
For example, comments recently on The Conversation website:
‘Australia lost control of its immigration program because both the student visa and the temporary skilled visa provided backdoor access to permanent migration status…….. …..queue-jumping on a massive scale as foreign students rorted the student visa category – vociferously supported by the shonks and spivs of the so-called “international education industry” – to become permanent migrants.’
Why does Australia have international education?
In addition to developing international relations, showing break from “White Australia” past in our region and ameliorating ongoing current account deficits for services, this policy allowed Australian education institutions to attract fee paying students, offset operating costs and reduced funding, when government saw it was facing increasing future demands from an ageing population.
The Howard government enhanced this international education policy and introduced the logical idea of offering an immigration pathway to eligible graduates onshore, especially as Australia had an economy thriving but suffering skill shortages (with oldies living longer and a significant baby boomer bubble coming to retirement age)
Australian international education had celebrated great success in Asia being the first choice of many students, families and governments due to perceived quality, price and proximity. Over the years, many both inside and outside the industry have claimed that more needs to be done on quality and marketing culture, and our image or brand. This is exemplified by more ongoing feedback from students and research on their experience and communicating this, using accessible digital communication and marketing techniques versus 1980s popstar style “fly in fly out” promotions at one off events.
However, has “mainstream” Australia appreciated international education and many international students found in our cities who should be Australia’s ambassadors in their home countries and the world?
Media, Population and Mainstream Critics
Many of the criticisms and perceptions of international education apparent in Australian society and media in the 1990s, although untrue, still exist today. This is exemplified by comments stating that international students are given “free” study, accommodation, benefits, locals’ jobs, automatic residency, cannot speak English etc..
Meanwhile, mainstream “progressive” media reports, including a respected economics journalist on Indian students, suggested they were “just given visas” (and presumably residency) to attend “dodgy private colleges” (registered and quality managed by state governments); and as parts of India have high murder rate, violence directed towards Indians in Australia is not an issue.
Other related expressions appearing in the media with negative connotations, and also used for other categories such as refugees, have been “runaway population growth”, “back door immigration” and “queue jumping”.
The result of orchestrated negative campaigns has been reviews of immigration, skilled occupation lists, international education, sustainable population, student welfare and student visas, with changes in legislation. This has led to situation where all students need to pass conditions of Genuine Student and Genuine Temporary entrant for their student visa application, resulting in more rejections, and helped by high AUD, fewer students, thus income shortfalls and many lost jobs .
As a result of the Knight Visa Review, universities now have access to streamlined visa processing, and planned rollout to TAFE and private colleges has been delayed thus delivering a hierarchical system of visas favouring universities and selected pathway providers. This outcome is possibly due to the “poisonous politics of population” and perception that public education good, private education bad therefore, candidates studying in vocational and private sector must be restricted.
Has the international education industry engaged the public effectively in mainstream media to explain the benefits of international education, rebut fallacies and criticism? Or will it continue passively while rent a quote neo Malthusian or “nativist” anti immigration advocates, to whom the mainstream media defer, inform the Australian public, negatively?
Net Overseas Migration and “Population Growth”:
Similar in the U.K. but the there the government has been in the media for the international education industry which been under severe pressure like Australia on immigration, population, visas and reducing net overseas migration. This is due to what Business Secretary Vince Cable says is a statistical anomoly through use of the UN definition of population, international students are included in net overseas migration data, used to calculate resident population. First this adds to population growth, then they are deemed to be “immigrants” by mainstream media, suggesting all international students are or planning to be permanent immigrants, which they are not.
Where the UK is ahead of the game is that of late in the mainstream media, senior politicians are stating unequivocally that international education is a positive for the UK, while challenging negative stereotypes. Like Australia, the source of much misinformation is not “bogans” in marginal electorates, but those middle class journalists who inform readers in mainstream media, but accept at face value bogus arguments of anti immigration and anti population growth advocates claiming concern for the environment (and used to justify their ‘nativist’ sympathies).
Promote International Education to Mainstream Australia?
In addition to continuing improvement of quality and marketing, with both vocational and higher education viewed as equal value, would the international education industry, either jointly or through the Federal Minister, report on industry positives and communicate through mainstream media?
This could include highlighting the tangible and intangible financial contribution to both the economy and society such as fees, homestays, acccommodation, international community, business links, marketing to family and friends for tourism visits, and other activities such as offshore training, study tours, study exchanges etc. Additionally, in cooperation with ABS and DIAC, explain how population growth is calculated, the (long, difficult and uncertain) process of applying for permanent residency after graduation and that it is a positive to have international students and their families deciding to study, and sometimes stay in Australia.
If the industry wants support of governments and government policy, the electorate needs to be informed with facts in the mainstream media, versus the distortions and personal prejudices which are apparent and transmitted to Australians, not just commercial current affairs programs, but also ‘progressive’ media outlets.
Meanwhile, both capacity and competition is growing internationally, especially ‘in country’ provision, and in Europe’s case, the EU’s Erasmus mobility program first promoting student exchange via English medium courses, now actively promoting fee paying students from outside the EU, e.g. Asia.
However, as the AUD value recedes and some visa benefits filter through leading to increased numbers of international students, this success will be viewed by media as negative due to increased “population growth” and “immigration”.
Will any current federal politician or industry, in Australia’s poisonous political arena, be prepared to raise their head above the parapet (as some state premiers have done) and state unequivocally that international education with hosting of international students from Asia and the rest of the globe, is good for Australia and all Australians?
If not, too many Australians will continue to view international students and education as a negative, while our neighbours may view Australia’s obsession about security, immigration and population growth, as being tolerant of intolerance?