Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Foreigners are 'exploited'

Dear Colleagues,

The following article -found in the Higher Education section of The Australian newspaper- addresses key issues overseas student are facing whilst studying in Australia. We would like to hear about your experience and/or opinion about these issues.

Thanking you,


Foreigners are 'exploited'

CONTRARY to their image as cashed-up BMW drivers, many overseas students cannot afford to eat, are paid well below the minimum wage and are among those most vulnerable to exploitation in this country, new research says.

More than one-third of overseas students struggle financially and about 60 per cent are paid less than the legal minimum wage, according to the research.

The alarming findings come as education overtakes tourism as the nation's biggest services export, increasing by a huge 21 per cent in 2007 to $12.5 billion. The number of international student enrolments rose 18 per cent on the previous year to more than 450,000, the latest figures show.

The authors of the joint Monash University and University of Melbourne studies slammed universities for treating foreign students like "cash cows", and criticised the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee (now known as Universities Australia) for failing to include overseas students in a recent student welfare study.

They wrote that "many internationals are disadvantaged by their relative deficit of language and cultural skills, they are crowded into a narrower range of jobs than is available to their domestic peers, and they commonly offset these disadvantages by working for less than the legal (minimum)".

The two papers, one on international students in the workforce and the other on the financial difficulties faced by overseas students, were based on interviews with 200 students at nine universities across Australia.

The researchers found that almost 60 per cent of students earned below the minimum wage and 37per cent had experienced financial hardship, including not having enough money to travel to university or even eat.

"I had a very hard time finding a job. (For the) first two months I was unemployed," one 36-year-old Indian student told researchers. "My rent is very high - it's $120 a week - and other than that you have travelling, eating, everything.

"So I starved."

The researchers discovered 70 per cent of international students worked at some stage during their studies in Australia and a number admitted to working more than the maximum 20 hours allowed by their study visas.

"Of the students who reported their hourly rate, 58 per cent earned between $7 and $15 per hour at a time when the legal minimum for a casual waiter was $16.08 an hour and the rate for a casual shop assistant was $17.97 per hour," the study states.

Conducted by Simon Marginson, Chris Nyland, Erlenawati Sawir, Gaby Ramia and Helen Forbes-Mewett, the research also found foreign students were more likely to be exploited because of their lack of English skills and ignorance of workplace rights. The researchers called for urgent action by governments and universities.

They urged better education for international students about their workplace rights and better investigations by workplace authorities to expose the injustices experienced by working overseas students.

Professor Nyland and his colleagues wrote that the decision by UA not to include overseas students in its finances study "sadly lends credence to the much repeated claim that Australian university managers view international students primarily as customers who exist to be milked".

But UA chief executive Glenn Withers rejected the claim that tertiary institutions treated international students like cash cows and don't care about their welfare.

He defended the decision not to include international students in their student finances survey, saying that that survey was targeted at the federal government to try to improve income support for domestic students.

Dr Withers said universities were helping overseas students where they could by providing support services and going into public-private partnerships to construct accommodation for students close to campuses.

"The biggest problems are the exchange rate - and universities cannot control that - and expensive housing, and universities cannot control that either," he said.