I mentioned in this post about appearing before a Senate Committee hearing as patr of their inquiry into the welfare of international students. That Committee tabled its report in the Senate in the final sitting days of the year. Almost all the attention at the time was on the legislation dealing with climate change, and the related leadership tension in the Liberal Party, so the report got fairly limited attention.
The Senate Committee Inquiry was initiated by the Greens Party, but the final report was a unanimous one, with Labor, Liberal and Green party members of the Committee producing sixteen recommendations. The majority of these did not directly address the issue of attacks on students which sparked much of the initial attention, although many of the recommendations did relate to providing more and clearer information about students’ rights and about the services and support available.
Importantly, it also urged a review of the twenty hour limit which currently applies to the amount of work students are allowed to work each week. If a student is caught working more than this in a week, they are likely to have their visa cancelled, which is a huge penalty for what can be a minor or one-off breach. The Committee also recommended that there be more flexibility applied in this situation, rather than the automatic cancelling of a visa which currently occurs.
A recommendation that discounts be made available for international students on public transport in all Australian states is also welcome, although it will be up to some state governments to decide whether or not to act on that recommendation.
It is not uncommon for Senate Committee reports to attract limited media attention in Australia, as they tend to ignore the more sensationalised aspects of an issue and focus on facts and solutions. This report seemed to get as much coverage in Indian media as it did in Australia.
While there was criticism that the report did not agree with suggestions that many of the attacks on Indian students were racially motivated, the strong focus on ensuring students get more information about their rights and supports available should be welcomed. In order for the report to be unanimous across all the political parties represented on the Senate Committee, it is often the case that recommendations and findings are more general and a bit less strong than they might otherwise have been. However, the benefit of a unanimous committee report is that it is much harder for the government to ignore the recommendations or dismiss them as being driven by party politics.
The Inquiry attracted 124 submissions and held three public hearings, which is an indication of the high level of interest in the issue. It also means that a lot of people will continue to watch the federal government’s response to the issue, as well as ongoing developments in the international education area.
In the meantime, an ongoing rapid audit to check the standards of many of the colleges providing training for overseas students has led to a number of colleges closing with very little notice – with another two closing just last week. This leaves many students, who have usually paid very large fees, in a difficult situation, although Australian government officials do work hard to try to find alternative places for people to complete their studies.
(crossposted at Asian Correspondent)