It is noteworthy that Australia’s economic recovery continues to be much more rapid than commentators had predicted. The unemployment and underemployment rates have fallen and continue to fall. It is quite likely that if things keep on this way, workers’ bargaining positions will improve and real wages will start to rise. Good!
There are, however, industries prepared to put both public health and the economic recovery at risk. They are demanding a return to the rapid growth policies of the past, which have proved so damaging to our workforce and to our environment.
In particular I refer to the international student industry. Their lobbyists are demanding that the borders be re-opened to mass entry by international students. They claim that international students represent a $40 billion export industry. In reality, many international students pay for their education through income they earn working in Australia. This is not an “export industry” at all. Those who claim it is should have no difficulty supporting an end to the students’ Australian work rights.
Furthermore, the collapse in international student numbers has led to an increase in the workforce participation rate of young people. Young people who are neither working nor studying are at mental health risk. The economic and social costs of their disengagement are great. Getting them back into the workforce is a real positive.
The Federal Minister for Education Alan Tudge has correctly identified a further problem with the international student industry – its impact on academic standards. Recently he issued a Press Release pointing out that the primary role of our publicly funded institutions is to educate Australians. He went on to say that “having over 60% of a classroom with international students from just one or two countries, is not optimising the student experience for Australians – nor for international students. This is particularly true if universities are not applying transparent and rigorous English language requirements for international students – a concern raised recently by the regulator, TEQSA”.
Macrobusiness says that “domestic students have been forced to chaperone non-English speaking students through group assignments, effectively acting as unpaid tutors ensuring that international students pass”, and that “Casualised university staff have also been bullied into passing non-performing foreign students”. I have personal knowledge of a case of a tutor failing an assignment from an international student. The work was then referred by the University to another tutor who – wait for it – passed the student.
It is true that Universities have suffered as a result of the pandemic and the border closures. But they should never have got into such a precarious and vulnerable position in the first place, and they should not try to go back there now.
International students themselves have often been victims of this “export industry” – exploited, underpaid, housed in sub-standard accommodation, and in extreme cases kept as slaves.
Minister Tudge has shown a genuine understanding of the proper role of Universities – to promote education, not make money. He should follow this up by removing the link between studying, work rights and permanent residency.
This would enable our Universities to return to their proper purpose. The sky would not fall in, and in fact many young Australians would see improved educational and work opportunities. Australian workers might even get a pay rise.
The Hon. Kelvin Thomson
Sustainable Australia Party