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‘Exploitation’ of foreign students

7 February, 2008

In a recent post I mentioned an article by a psychiatrist about the often poor levels of mental health found among international students in Australia.  Now The Australian has just published a piece in which it is claimed that many foreign students in Australia are being exploited.  A study done by researchers at Monash and Melbourne Universities is highly critical of an ‘industry’ that treats foreign students as ‘cash cows’.

Particularly striking for me was the revelation that a recent study by the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee on student welfare did not include overseas students in its scope.  This kind of exclusion accords with other structural impediments for overseas students, for example the fact that they do not qualify for student concessions.  In essence, international students are on their own — expected to be self-sufficient and not needing to avail themselves to the support of the state.  Dare I say that they are highly ‘neoliberalised’ subjects, existing in a much purer version of the ‘free market’ than domestic students would be expected to endure.

The full text of the article follows:

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.

See also: International study, mental health, and migration in Australia

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 7 February, 2008 10:03 pm

    Clearly, the catering industries in Sydney and Melbourne rely on foreign students’ labour, pliable and semi-legal (I mean with lots of unreported employment), as much as the Italian fashion industry does on Chinese workshops or German homeowners on Polish plumbers. As I (or maybe it was my colleague the Third Tone Devil) have long said, A Day Without Foreign Students in Sydney would be like A Day Without Mexicans in the US. Neoliberalism as exception, as Aihwa Ong puts it!

  2. 8 February, 2008 8:33 am

    Indeed. And don’t forget the service stations. Where would they be without (predominantly South Asian) foreign students!

  3. san permalink
    21 June, 2008 6:27 pm

    They should lift the working restriction from 20 hours to 40, It’s very hard for international students to find job. The government is being greedy, they are treating international students as animals, if such thing continues, it’s not far that australia will see students on strike, demanding their rights, this could blast the economic of education sector even more crime will be commited in future.

    In most the the job vacancies they display these words ” YOU SHOULD BE PR OF AUSTRALIA” , which is impossible for international students to apply. Well in that case where is EEO???? Lastly Australia is not the right country to study, every international students should know that. Government is getting richer due to international students, let’s make them poor and suffer. The australian born students will get allowance, at least we deserve something better life, sometimes i feel myself as going into depression and suicide putting down myself under the train of illawara line.

  4. Shepherd permalink
    14 July, 2008 12:21 pm

    There is more to say about exploitation of foreign students in Australia. The government is also on the party. AUD 450.- for a student visa is clearly a ripp-off. In order not to get into conflict which international watchbodies, they call it non-refundable application fee. In Nigeria, they call it paragraph 419 of the criminal code : Advance fee fraud. The visitor visa fee which had to be scrapped under pressure of the EU and US is now called visitor visa processing fee (AUD20.-), collected by an “outsourced” IT company. International students pay higher tuition fees than Australians. They have no concessions/discounts on transportation and all other services. Doctors charge rediculous fees i.e. AUD 180.- for a 5 min. visit trying to sell a AUD 600.- acne treatment program. She did not honor OSHC insurance. The same is true if you buy medication from a pharmacy. No OSHC, only cash. Now let’s get to rental. AUD 120.-/week for a 10sqm room, that is AUD 520.-/month for just a small room! Internet is an extra AUD25.- to 40.-/month, limited to 5GB with a min. penalty of AUD10.- for each extra GB odd. A popular practice of landlords is to provide a wireless Internet network to a bunch of students and collect $40 from each of them. If they have 20 paying students at their hotspot, they make $760.- profit plus free Internet access. Someone said: Don’t forget, that Australiens are convicts in the 4th generation but the criminal gene will be inherited forever. That is, why the immigration authorities require a character declaration – to make sure that some clean blood comes onboard. Now we hear about the stabbing of an Indian taxi driver and other violences. Meanwhile, despite the 50% overvalued AUD and 20%+ real inflation, universities suck even more tuition fees and turn to smut business practices, i.e. hiding that an IELTS test at the end of a 25 weeks English course has to be paid extra (AUD 280.- for some hours) or mixing Tuition fees for Trimesters and Semesters that they become so unclear, that at the end, they are much higher than calulated. A Bachelor of Arts now costs well above about AUD 80,000.-. For this money, you better study in the USA, UK, Ireland, Canada or New Zealand. How about the Surbonne? You will be surprised. Yes, Australia is over. They definitely crossed the red line.

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