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.



  1. It is true that foreign students are vulnerable to exploitation only if their providers will allow. The providers I am speaking about are the educational agents, migration agents, travel, relatives and some unscrupulous employers. It is true that students are coming to Australia to serve it as their pathway to permanent residency. It should not be taken as a pathway to get employed in order to support their education and their living expenses.From simple calculation of the living costs in Australia as well as the tuition, it will be easy to say that wages will not be sufficient.
    Agents and providers involved in informing the foreign students on the benefits of studying to Australia should not concentrate on selling Australian education as their pathway to employment so they can support their own education.Studying in Australia should be first and foremost focus on achieving the competency required in the industry so that graduated students can compete at an equal footing with all the others.
    Working rights in Australia should be clearly explained to the students and their relatives. This is I guess where more effort should be done. I am a believer that foreign students do not deserve to experience the workplace inequalities e.g. lower wages. This "arrangement" should not be condone by anyone in Australia.
    I am a firm believer too that majority of the foreign students are strong, goal driven, determined, talented, smart and hardworking. It is this the same token that I believe that sooner or later they will be occupying the top positions in the government, public and private companies.
    Maybe it is worthwhile to think now of the things that we should be doing. I do not want to think that somebody in my family or friends to be subjected to any "arrangement" in the future because her/his boss was subjected to the same arrangement / exploitation when she/ he was "just" a foreign student.

    This is a serious call for all agents, providers, employers, relatives and friends to help stop creating an ugly cycle of exploitation.

  2. I agree with the previous comment. We as agents must explain the students that the work is to obtain extra funds for their living expenses, not to support them while they are studying. Otherwise, Australian efforts in promoting Australian education as Top Quality will not be worth it

  3. I believe even if students with low economic status go to Aus, Aus eventually gets benefitted because it can use their labor and expertise. However, Aus govt needs to seriously monitor colleges/ universities and employers' activities so that all students attain quality education, and needy students work for limited hours without low pay.

  4. Any student choosing to relocate to another country (including Australia) to undertake study must carefully consider the risks and undertake as much research as possible before making that very important decision.

    The primary goal of education institution should be to provide the students with a quality "product" that equips the graduate with the skills, knowledge and competencies required to enter the related career, profession or industry.

    It can be argued that a component of this education should include subjects/units about local culture, industrial relations, civil liberties and government. such subjects may, indeed, be of importance to "local" students as well as overseas students!

    All uninformed graduates are prime targets for unscrupulous employers to take advantage of.

    While education institutions are concerned with the welfare of their students and the ongoing prospects for their graduates, this is not their key area of expertise.

    Some cynics may suggest that students who enter another country to study (anything), with the only objective being to secure Permanent Residency, are also abusing the education system. They often may not present as ideal candidates to prospective employers, who not only look for formal qualifications, but also other attributes such as command of language, customer service, commitment and attitude.

    Perhaps the best approach for prospective students is to deal with reputable Agents and institutions, undertake a lot of research, and maintain a realistic attitude about outcomes.

  5. I would like to draw attention to another important fact: DIAC requires overseas students to provide funds of $12,000pa for living expenses whilst studying in Australia. As a student, I would assume that this is a relatively close amount to what is really needed for living.
    In contrast:
    - University of Sydney recommends nearly $19,000pa (not including textbooks, vacation expenses, medicine and running a car)
    - RMIT in Melbourne suggests a minimum of nearly $21,000pa depending on the type of accommodation
    - QUT in Brisbane is a bit closer to the official figure, their calculation shows between $17,000 and $18,000 per year
    - The suggested yearly budget according to Curtin University in Perth is $15,000

    This may be part of the explanation why "uninformed" or "misinformed" overseas students might end up in a situation where they need to work for their living.

  6. Obviously this is not right! I was an international student in Australia and had a great experience.

    I had the opportunity to study with high academic standards.In addition, I was very well received by the Australian society.

    It is sad to see the Australian Media using international student stories to mislead information.

    For more information you can visit a great website with lots of stories from international students in australia.

    You can visit and see


  7. I love my job as a student counsellor for overseas studies and i have worked in this field for the past 4 years. but the last job that i held with a leading agency in india which sent studnets abroad, opened my eyes to a big time racket... called ...

    the so called students were unable even to pay for decent education in a decent college in india, unable to speak any other langauge aprt from their mother tongue, and above all unable to access that kind of money

    To date i explain to my students that they are going on a student visa. to study, not to waste time cleaning plates and sweeping. Armed with a degree, and the will, there is nothing stopping a bright one from getting a good job.

    but these agents would fake bank loan letters, fake property certificates, fool the authorities with a brand new PAN card and IT returns and assure the students that they can work, eran $30 per hour, and pay thier way through college.

    they were assured of a these students went across, without money and to make some, worked illegal hours, stayed in run down places...........

    i quit shortly after i realized what was happening. the current happenings had to happen at some point. i am sorry that the educational system was abused, i am ashamed of the fellow consultants here who acted like Judas, selling the student for 30 pieces of silver

    i wish the checking would really be top class so as to catch the fraud and i wish PR is stopped for sometime, so that the student who enters australia is good and able to contribute to the economy of australia