International Students+immigration+work rights=an election issue
There has been a recent concentration of media stories on international students in the immigration debate, population growth and work rights. The Labor opposition is citing that the rise in temporary visas is now taking jobs from Australians and focusses on student visas. The growth in numbers from China has put the spotlight on the international education industry and tellingly an article in the Sun-Herald (July 14) cited that the 25th Million person in Australia will occur in August this year – ‘Although we can’t know for sure who Australian number 25 million will be, demographic trends suggest it is most likely to be a female student, migrating from China’.- note the word ‘migrating’ – student visas are temporary. This type of article firmly links international students with the immigration/population debate, the toxic combination that led to the decline of the UK international education market. Mixing the issues of work rights/international students/population concerns is a no-brainer for Labor – international students do not vote and the industry is spread throughout Australia with very little influence except at the university level. The damage of linking these issues can be immense with work rights as one of the main drivers to attract students to study in Australia. Students and education agents are wary of the constant changes that the Australian government does to the visa programs and even rumours of changes can cause downturns in enrolments.
The fact must be emphasised is most students go home after their time in Australia. Students come and spend money and consume services, tourism and some decide that they want to stay but not all are successful. The Sun-Herald article gives an example of a student Dorothy from China studying at UTS – she plans to return after graduating –“My parents are in China, and my boyfriend also will go back to China when he finishes his course in Sydney,” Ms Zhao said. “Therefore, my roots are in China and I will not be an immigrant.”. This part of the international student story should be shown, many students return. We should celebrate the fact that we can attract students and should value their contribution to Australia while they are here.
The new Australian value proposition for international students will be debated at the Symposium on Leading Education Recruitment SYMPLED2008