`Australian govt ignoring advice on Indian students’

An Australian universities` body has accused the government of ignoring warnings on problems faced by overseas students.

Updated: Jan 23, 2010, 12:49 PM IST

Melbourne: A top body that represents Australia`s universities has accused both state and federal governments of ignoring warnings issued by it on problems faced by overseas students, including Indians, in the country.

Universities Australia, which represents 39 universities, said it had alerted governments to problems
relating to student safety, poor-quality colleges, lack of
concessions on public transport and immigration matters for
two years ago.

"It (Universities Australia) passed on to Australian
authorities warnings from officials in China and India
relating to student safety. It also conveyed to governments
student disenchantment resulting from a perception they were
being treated like cash cows," `The Age` reported on Saturday.

The daily said Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard`s
office, Immigration Minister Chris Evans` office and Premier
John Brumby`s office were unable to confirm that the body had
alerted them to such problems two years ago.

However, Universities Australia chief executive Glenn
Withers said that he was disappointed as state and federal
governments did not treat the problems as a priority when they
were told about them two years ago but acted with urgency only
when violent attacks on Indian students attracted intense
media attention.

"We were disappointed that earlier warnings took the
unfortunate development of street assaults to lead to the
reforms that should have been in place already. We saw this
two years ago as an issue, tried to transmit it to government
and were meeting resistance," he told the newspaper.

Withers said Universities Australia expressed a desire
to work with the Coalition of Australian Governments to tackle
problems in the vocational training sector that were likely to
adversely affect the higher education sector but was not taken

"We were told basically, `This is not a matter for
you, you are a concern of the Commonwealth and have no place
at our table,`" he said.

"We were warning: `Look it`s a reputational issue,
it`s a brand Australia issue, please let us work with you`.

The states weren`t interested in listening. I think they
thought they could just ride this industry to their benefit
without worrying about their role in any serious way."

He said Universities Australia had also raised
concerns over the link between international education and
immigration with the Federal government.

The Federal government, was so "enamoured of
short-term labour market convenience (to) employers" that it
did not listen when Universities Australia said immigration
should be part of long-term national development, he said.

"Permanent migration should not have been skewed for
those purposes. They realised that and began to repair it, but
too late," he said.

The report said for the period of July to October last
year, constant media coverage on Indian students crisis lead
to drop in visa applications to 23 percent below the figure
for the same period a year earlier.

Applications from India fell 46 percent and those
from Nepal, Australia`s fastest-growing market, plummeted by a
staggering 85 percent.

Russell Mahoney, a spokesman for Gillard, said the
Department of Education could not immediately find a record of
meetings or correspondence with Universities Australia two
years ago.

Mahoney and Simon Dowding, a spokesman for Evans, said
the Rudd government regularly consulted with Universities
Australia, and that federal and state education ministers last
year said they would improve the experience of international
students by fixing a range of problems including students`
support services and immigration.

While international enrolments from India have
reportedly dropped following stricter immigration rules and
also safety concerns, it was reported that more private
colleges were expected to close as demand dries up.

The report said the sliding demand was hitting
universities hard as Australian universities relied on
overseas student fees for an average of 15 percent of their

At La Trobe University new applications from Indian
students for the first semester this year were half of last
year`s, the report said.