International student fares are not fair
International student fares are not fair
14 Mar 2010
First published in the National Times 11 March 2010
The decision to live and study in another country is not taken lightly by either students or their parents. It is a significant financial burden on parents, who also face the emotional stress of having a child living halfway across the world.
While hosting international students brings substantial financial benefits, the host must also make the international experience safe and rewarding for all concerned.
Bruce Baird's timely review of the framework governing education for international students , notes that transport concessions are one of the key factors that contribute to a students' overall experience. Their lack is "strongly felt by affected students".
Unfortunately, the Victorian government has failed in this critical area: it has denied the transport concessions that are available to every other student in Victoria and to every international student in our key competitor destinations. This ill-mannered and poor business decision urgently needs a review.
The most recent report from Universities Australia estimated that the cost of providing concessional fares for all international students in Victoria was about $40 million a year. This needs to be offset against direct state tax revenue of about $400 million annually. Looked at another way, an international student delivers about $29,000 in added value to the economy.
The cost of providing the subsidy to international students in Victoria is about $1000 each a year. It would seem reckless to endanger this significant contribution to the Australian economy for want of such a small investment.
Baird's report also suggests other benefits. The lower cost of travel, particularly if weighted towards off-peak periods, would increase numbers and security on public transport and lower the opportunistic attacks on students walking in isolated places. Simply having more international students on public transport is an important step in integrating them into the wider community
This denial of a transport concession comes at a huge cost to Victoria. Last September the state government announced a "culture card" as part of its new "Thinking Global: Victoria's Action Plan for International Education". The card's aim is to connect students to the community.
It is a laudable initiative. It is, however, set to fail until we give international students the respect of providing one of the most basic amenities a student needs — affordable transport.
The state government is putting at risk an industry worth about $17 billion to Australia. The most important task for everyone involved is to put the industry on a sustainable basis — clear out the doubtful operators and make sure we look after the best interests of those who come. As Baird points out, this means getting the regulatory framework right to protect students and our reputation as a destination that provides quality education.
The industry has grown fast in recent years, when many operators have been more interested in the cash than the students. It would be unfortunate if we had to consider the present state government as no better.
This industry survives on reputation and integrity. It needs a stable and secure footing. At this point, our reputation in important countries such as India does not need restoring, it needs rebuilding from the ground up. The lack of a transport concession in Victoria, which students experience as "racist and discriminatory", doesn't help.
Could we expect more from a Ted Baillieu-led government? It seems not. While the state opposition has not missed the opportunity to critique the inaction of the Brumby government, it has yet to say how it would act.
This was evident at a recent Australia-India Business Council dinner, when Baillieu repeated his refrain for the need for law and order. There was a lot of attitude but no positive vision of what might be done to connect Indian students to the broader community. When asked directly about extending general student transport concessions to international students, Baillieu shifted from attitude to evasion.
It is not just a question of cost. It is the messages conveyed. Universities know that returning students are the most important factor in determining the ongoing success of the international education industry in Victoria. We want and need our international students to feel welcome, supported and secure.
It is not just when they return home that they have an impact on opinion in their home country. They are constantly connected and reporting their experiences to friends and family. What Indian students want — as do all international students — is respect and a place in the community.
The refusal to extend the transport concession to all international students is galling, and with good reason — it actively excludes them from the broader community.
Education providers have worked hard to find ways to practically support international students. However, no matter what universities or other education providers do for their students, it is the leadership of the state government that matters.
We cannot expect the community to treat Indian students with respect until the government does. The most powerful thing the present government could do is to change this policy as soon as possible.
Dr Anthony Jarvis is associate dean (international and future students)