Friday, June 19, 2009

Indian students – at risk in Australia? by Peter Spolc

It is certainly true that a number of Indian students have been the subject of unprovoked attacks in Australia in recent times. It seems that the world’s media have made sure that this is global news. I’ve even had a British student (with a very Anglo name I might add) write to me with concerns for his safety during his study, scheduled to commence in Sydney in July.

What is not true is that we can determine, with any authority, the real risk to other Indian students, or any other students for that matter, as a result of these tragic events. We can begin to look at this issue from the perspective of personal safety research data for the world’s countries and cities.

But the media generally likes to make sure that the facts don’t get in the way of a good story, and sometimes the public are very happy to lend a hand. Take these comments from bloggers to the Times of India, for instance, “Even Before the advent of immigrants to that country, Australia was notorious for crimes, the reason remains very simple, poor economy, falling literacy rate, unemployment and racism, like many other countries” and “[the] youth of that country are left with very little choice but to target rich Indian students” while another preferred to entertain more of a regional conspiracy, “Maybe the ISI or other Pakistanis are paying white Australians to bash up Indians.”1

Presenting this issue as a cause for alarm, in whatever form that takes, makes eye-catching news. It is the very real uncertainties about international student safety that are overlooked in favour of that ‘good story’.

Almost one year ago exactly, the US company Mercer published the 2008 results of its annual survey of quality of living rankings for 215 of the world’s cities, including rankings of personal safety2

It identified five Australian cities in the world’s top 50 cities in terms of personal safety, with Melbourne, Perth and Sydney equal 29th on the list. Brisbane and Adelaide came in at equal 49th place. It is perhaps worth noting that while no US city made the top 50, five Canadian cities came in at equal 22nd. Only one UK city made the cut – Glasgow at no. 43.

So. if it was strictly a numbers game, you as a prospective international student in 2008 might choose to study in Luxembourg; no. 1 for personal safety. Or, if you prefer a more national approach, why not choose Germany with seven cities in the top 50?

Do these attacks really signal that the safety status enjoyed by Australia’s five safest cities has dramatically changed in the intervening year? I think not. If we were to treat the Dalai Lama as a somewhat unexpected authority on the issue of personal safety in Australia, we might even say that it has improved: “it would be wrong to blame the entire nation for the acts of a few people” ... “The behaviour of the native Australians is fast turning positive towards people of other cultures who have settled there”3 Or maybe this only applies to the permanent residents?

There is no doubt that the Indian students affected by these attacks suffered as victims of crime; but it would be premature to conclude that Indian students were a premeditated target. Had these victims been, say, Korean immigrants, would we automatically conclude that Australians had it in for Koreans? Again, I think not. Had they been white Anglo Australian students, what conclusion would we have made then? It is important to note that Australia’s ethnic and cultural diversity is generally higher than other nations in our region –the source countries of the majority of our international student population.4 This makes claims about racially-based crime an easy target, when the reality might be much more complex than first imagined.

What this story should focus on is the real risk to residents of Australia – permanent and temporary – of becoming victims of crime. And the prevailing statistics would suggest that the ‘risk’ of being safe is very high by global standards.

But this does not mean that there is not work for us to do. Australia’s High Commissioner to India is quoted as saying "there is no question that all these are criminal acts. For some of the acts the motivation might have a racist element. I will not rule out that some of the attacks were racist"5 Racism and crime are familiar bedfellows, and a careful examination of racist elements in these crimes should be considered, along with all of the other criminological elements we might expect to apply.

Should international students be afraid to come to Australia to study? On the contrary. In the Anglophonic world, Australia and Canada stand out as shining examples of safe living, with the UK and the US some distance behind.

And should our international student population choose to study at home, they might face quite different prospects. Singaporean students, for example, would enjoy living in the world’s 9th safest city, while students from Karachi would face life in the 213th ‘safest’ city.

Let’s all maintain a vigilance in caring for our students; be they domestic or international; temporary or permanent.

1 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/opinions/4659992.cms?curpg=1

2 http://www.mercer.com/referencecontent.htm?idContent=1307990

3 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Blaming-entire-Australia-for-racist-attacks-wrong-Dalai-Lama/articleshow/4641295.cms

4 p. 190 of Levinson, D. (1998) ‘Ethnic Groups Worldwide’ Oryx Press

5 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Blaming-entire-Australia-for-racist-attacks-wrong-Dalai-Lama/articleshow/4641295.cms

Monday, June 15, 2009

Current issues about International Education around the world - 15/06/2009

The Irish Independent (June 10th) reported that every year €500m is brought into the Irish economy by international third level students from outside the EU. But that New Zealand, a country with a comparable population, is much more successful than Ireland is in attracting them. The difference, according to the Independent is that New Zealand has put a clear policy in place and formed an alliance between government, education providers and supporting organisations to deliver stated objectives. The view expressed is that the absence of a government policy in Ireland has meant they are not claiming their ‘share’ of the global market for international education.

News from the UK, as reported by the Telegraph, is that British sixth formers could be "crowded out" of university places because of an increase in applications from candidates from the rest of Europe, according to vice-chancellors. An unprecedented surge in applications by young people to start higher education in the UK in September has seen the number of British candidates rise by 8.8 per cent from last year. Applications from the rest of the European Union are rising even more quickly, up by 16.4 per cent. Yet even though 43,367 more Britons and 3,576 more Europeans are chasing places, the Government has set a controversial 10,000 cap on the number of additional places available across the sector. A combination of the cap, the rise in EU applicants and a rule that prevents universities from discriminating in favour of homegrown talent means that British sixth formers risk losing places to well-qualified rivals from abroad.

The stories of violence and racism against international students in Australia have continued to appear in the media since our last update. The following is just one extract from The Australian (June 12th) and discusses some of the consequences of these events:

Protests in the wake of attacks on international students have forced a national quality crackdown on education and training providers to shore up the reputation of Australia's $15.5 billion education export industry. Education Minister Julia Gillard also announced another taskforce as it ratchets up its response to the attacks that have attracted international news coverage and sparked street protests. The Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs in Hobart today agreed to urgently carry out targeted audits of education and training providers. It follows Victoria's earlier move to launch a “rapid audit” of providers suspected to being in breach of regulations. The crackdown is expected to largely target those small private education providers that have been the target of complaints from students.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Accommodation Conundrum by Dr Katie Richardson

It was in the late 1990s that I started my research into the homestay industry. At the time it was an unstudied domain and it was clear that there were a number of unscrupulous players in the field. However, with the lack of legal and industry based regulation many of the unpleasant incidents could be swept under the carpet. This sense of obscurity was not only limited to homestay. Other forms of international student accommodation, such as boarding and student housing, were also relatively unstudied.

Things have changed somewhat over the past decade. Some research (albeit very limited and certainly not cross-sectoral) has been undertaken with regard to homestay and boarding. Regulations have been tightened considerably with regard to boarding and student housing, although homestay remains relatively unregulated in a legal sense, despite an onus on educational organisations to ensure the quality of accommodation that they provide. It was the ongoing ‘unknowns’ of student accommodation that spurred me on to my most recent research into the non-academic welfare of adolescent international students. Not surprisingly, student accommodation featured quite heavily.

Of the 318 secondary school overseas students who responded to the survey, homestay was, by far, the most popular choice of accommodation, with 44.4%. This was followed by those residing in boarding houses, which accounted for 19.5% of the questionnaire participants. The other forms of accommodation ranged from living with a parent (16.9%), to those who stayed with relatives (10.9%) or who shared rental arrangements with friends (8.3%). Although boarding seemed to be the most favoured mode of accommodation by the participating staff members the students’ responses were very different, and in my mind, surprising.

The overseas student questionnaire enabled me to measure the levels of culture shock that were experienced by the international students. When compared with their accommodation types, those who lived by themselves or with friends suffered most acutely, while boarders and adolescents residing with their parents experienced very little angst in terms of psychological adjustment. The moderate levels of culture shock that homestay students encountered were not surprising given the fact that they are in contact with the target culture most of the time. Interestingly, the adolescents who lived with close relatives experienced slightly higher levels of culture shock than those in homestay.

Given the fact that homestay students experienced relatively high levels of culture shock I was astonished to find that 77.2% of the homestay students indicated that they would recommend homestay accommodation to their friends. This result was particularly surprising in the light of general and ongoing criticisms regarding quality control issues in homestay. In contrast, the boarders were fairly evenly split between those who would advocate boarding (50.8%) and those who would not (49.2%). Considering that the boarding school students experienced noticeably less culture shock, it is interesting that the recommendations do not reflect the relative ease of their transition.

The question then remains: Why was homestay so popular with the students? One could speculate that the constant contact with those from the target culture enables the students to develop more confidence in their English language abilities. It may also indicate that the overseas students feel a sense of security living in a family-type situation where their needs can be met. Whatever the reasons are for this result, it is clear that more research is required in order for us to enhance our understanding of student accommodation needs.


Dr Katie Richardson is the Director of International Education Consultants Australia Pty Ltd. She is currently developing a series of testing tools which will enable homestay organisations to examine the beliefs of homestay host applicants and highlight the training needs of homestay hosts. Katie has recently completed her Ph.D which investigated the welfare of adolescent international students

Monday, March 2, 2009

Victoria University steps up its safety program for international students

Recent media reports have again drawn attention to the increased number of thefts and attacks upon students from the Indian subcontinent.

Victoria University has been working closely with international students and Victoria Police on a safety program for the past two years.

Vice-President International Andrew Holloway said: "Talking softly in public won't protect all students; nor will leaving their mobile phones and iPods at home. These strategies form part of the response, but equally important is a familiarity with their rights and the assistance available to help students lead a full and safe life while studying in Melbourne.

"As well as travelling to and from university for study, many international students also need to commute to part-time jobs, often late at night. This is why Victoria University has improved night shuttle bus services to transport hubs such as Sunshine and Footscray stations. We are also increasing the amount of accommodation available close to our campuses, so that students can avoid lengthy public transport trips.

"As part of a multi-pronged approach, we have been working with international students from South Asia and the police for two years on a program that maximises student safety. Our aim has been to ensure students are aware of the dangers and how best to avoid them or use better options, and also to inform them of the support available from a variety of sources, including the police, the university and the community.

"Together with the Police Multicultural Liaison Taskforce based at Footscray, we have developed a new initiative, a training program for university-appointed Safety Ambassadors, which is due to start shortly.

"In this program, students from the Indian subcontinent will receive instruction from police, lifesavers, fire brigade officers and other authorities in safety issues covering a wide range of settings - from public transport and the streets, to the internet, the surf and the bush. They will then be provided with materials and resources to share among fellow students, passing on their knowledge and expertise.

"In another fresh initiative, members of the Victoria Police Footscray Multicultural Liaison unit will spend three hours on our Footscray Park campus every second Thursday to chat with students about any issues of concern.

"Already, the university provides written and DVD material on safety tips to international students before their departure, upon arrival as part of induction programs, and throughout their stay in Melbourne. However, we have identified a need to increase the reach of this message and have decided that peer support is the most effective way to achieve this.

"Victoria University also hosts a Safety Week in which we distribute resources and spread the safety message. Local police officers attend this event, giving formal presentations and informal one-on-one briefs to students.

"Cultural issues are also being addressed. Many of our international students come from countries where the police routinely fail to respond to reports of violence or theft, or expect a bribe before they will act. In addition, many students fear that their student visas or applications for residency may be delayed or revoked if they are seen to be in trouble or involved in any way with the authorities. This perception can be one of the most difficult to overcome and undoubtedly contributes to under-reporting of attacks and other incidents.

"We have chosen to address this in a variety of ways. By working closely with the police, introducing them to students at our many events and encouraging informal as well as formal contacts, we are slowly breaking down cultural barriers that prevent close working relationships.

"But students need to know that the police are active and visible on the streets as well as on campus. This is also starting to happen, although it's important to acknowledge that the police can't be everywhere all the time. Nevertheless, patrols have stepped up in danger spots surrounding railway stations in the western suburbs.

"Authorities and community representatives have also expressed interest in travelling with our recruitment staff when we visit potential students offshore in their home countries.

"We are taking this one step further. Students and police have both expressed interest in a social cricket match. We've been bowled over by the response, including from female students. Both teams are starting to recognise they have something more than runs on the board to play for."

Media contact: Jim Buckell, Acting Senior Media Officer
Marketing and Communications Department, Victoria University
Phone: +61 3 9919 4243
Mobile: 0400 465 459
Email: jim.buckell@vu.edu.au

Source: VU Media Centre

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Social inclusion and integration by Paula Dunstan

Last month, Campus Review (20.01.09) ran two articles relating to the social inclusion and integration of international students: one connected to quality assurance at Adelaide University, and the other a more personal reflection from IEAA president Stephen Connolly. Both perspectives are essential to the discussion about international student experience, from individual experience to systematic programs. It’s an important discussion for students, institutions and communities alike, but the issues are not new. In a successful and still-growing international education sector, a positive international student experience is, and has always been seen by many as both a social good and protection for the reputation and image of Australia as a friendly and welcoming host.

Are social inclusion and integration the same thing, however? As much as we would like to bundle up our buzzwords (student experience is a massively complex thing in itself), it might be wise to differentiate our terms if our efforts are to be effective. In Stephen Connolly’s article, social inclusion is related to personal hosting and welcoming. Face-to-face communication and relatedness through families and communities is often a voluntary, altruistic activity, benefiting some a great deal. Social inclusion often works by accident and goodwill, when some people are in the right place at the right time. It is sustained more by good practice than policy, except perhaps in well-managed home-stay and other programs. Visitors and hosts alike need to work hard if they wish to create socially inclusive spaces.

Integration refers to more formal processes which create environments for students to develop different cultural perspectives, find meaning in otherness, and confidently enter, depart and re-enter facilitated learning spaces. The term has been used, discussed and researched in the institutional context over time, and connects in part with social, psychological and cultural theory. It provides for the personal and academic development of students, and is often supported by policy as a key principle of international education good practice.

In 1987, the first international student adviser was appointed at UNSW, and through the early 1990s most universities invested in student advisers to facilitate social, cultural and academic integration on campuses. We saw the development of specific professional skills and knowledge generation that addressed integration as a development process, as well as a focus for program creation within international offices and other service areas. Integration was not as an attractive a buzzword as internationalisation, but every bit as real and every bit as difficult to achieve.

At the ISANA Conference in 1997, Richard Nowak and Robert Weiland described the importance of social competence as a developmental stage for international students, affected negatively by cultural shock unless universities met their obligations to these students by facilitating targeted programs that lead to ‘affective and relation-centred interaction.’

At the same conference, RMIT’s Professor Desmond Cahill, warned of the unpredictable effects Pauline Hanson could have on “our friendly, multicultural image” and consequently on international student experience. Cahill saw the issues had to do with ethical values, community cohesion and identity, in great danger of being undermined by Hanson and her supporters. Cahill described international student advisors as meeting the need for intercultural interaction and its facilitation, and applauded their understanding of language and culture in the context of international education which remains at all times a form of cross-cultural education.

Hanson was privileged in the media, and the dangerous potential of her views was evident in migrant communities as well as in universities, which were not sufficiently supported by government policy or public indignation. If they were, they might have better counteracted her impact through their contributions to community work and public education. These days, it’s media mischief that seeks to vilify the very institutions and community agencies that are dedicated to inclusive and welcoming practice; this, as Connolly asserts, draws energy away from the real issues.

International education has changed greatly since 1997, when overseas students holding visas in Australia numbered fewer than 150,000, as distinct from over 474,000 in 2008. Sheer numbers as well as cultural diversity and cross-sectoral dimensions provide us with enormous challenges to ensure students feel part of, and work successfully within, their learning communities. The need for professional skills in this area remains as crucial as ever for the success of our international education industry.

In 2009, integration and social inclusion remain a focus for professionals working with international students – the advisors, teachers, and specialised support services. The recent 19th ISANA conference, 'Promoting integration and interaction’ devoted its program over four days to presenting and discussing several outstanding examples of real efforts, real projects, real information, focused research and systematic programs designed for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.

Such things are formed by individuals and networks, supported by institutions, and cultivated by professional associations, a large part of whose role it is to generate and promote professional capacity. We hope these efforts are taken seriously and sustained by government. They involve investment in resources, improved knowledge, professional training – and good management. We need debate on international students and their place in our campuses and communities. The issues are more multi-faceted, and more difficult to understand than individual personal experiences, and while personal stories should be encouraged as instructive and uplifting, the tough issues about reason and purpose remain. Friendliness, of course is always important, but on a large scale management strategies need to come to the fore.

The ISANA 1997 conference theme was ‘In it together’. Some things don’t change – whether it’s a single student experience or the collective experience of thousands, ahead is a responsibility for all of us.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

International students and social inclusion

In Campus Review 20/01/2009 Stephen Connolly writes, "The recent article by Sushi Das in The Age (November 15 2008) portraying the tragic tale of Jimmy, the international student who ended up sleeping under a bridge in Melbourne, tells us nothing about the broad social issues of social inclusion of international students that need to be tackled. It is the type of sensational, error-prone journalism that is common in the press when it comes to international education, and takes energy away from tackling the real issues."

What are the real issues about social inclusion? What should jounalists do to properly represent the issues? What 'good news' do you have about social inclusion of international students?