Senate’s International students inquiry – the questioner gets questioned

I had the slightly curious but none the less worthwhile experience a couple of weeks ago of providing evidence to a public hearing a Senate Committee inquiry, sitting on the opposite side of the table from where I’d been so many times since 1997.
The inquiry is into issues surrounding international students.  While a lot of the media coverage has focused on violence towards some students in some southern states, there are many other systemic problems with policies affecting international students which merit consideration.  From my own experience as a witness and from reading the transcripts of other hearings, it looks like this Committee is taking its job seriously, rather than looking for political point scoring opportunities.
The nature and breadth of the questioning from the Committee members gave me a good chance to raise a wide range issues and information I gain through the various different jobs and roles I have at the moment.  The other more immediate thing that hit me was that 4 of the 5 Senators present when I gave evidence had entered the Senate since I left less than 15 months earlier – which is a reminder how quickly the caravan moves on.
You can read my http://aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/eet_ctte/international_students/submissions.htm submission to this inquiry – and everyone else’s – at this link.  Mine is number 61.  The transcripts of the public hearings are http://aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/eet_ctte/international_students/hearings/index.htm at this link. I appeared as the second witness at the Canberra hearings on 18 September.
The Committee is due to report on 16 November.

I had the slightly curious but none the less worthwhile experience a couple of weeks ago of providing evidence to a public hearing a Senate Committee inquiry, sitting on the opposite side of the table from where I’d been so many times since 1997.

The inquiry is into issues surrounding international students. While a lot of the media coverage has focused on violence towards some students in some southern states, there are many other systemic problems with policies affecting international students which merit consideration.  From my own experience as a witness and from reading the transcripts of other hearings, it looks like this Committee is taking its job seriously, rather than looking for political point scoring opportunities.

The nature and breadth of the questioning from the Committee members gave me a good chance to raise a wide range issues and information I gain through the various different jobs and roles I have at the moment.  The other more immediate thing that hit me was that 4 of the 5 Senators present when I gave evidence had entered the Senate since I left less than 15 months earlier – which is a reminder how quickly the caravan moves on.

You can read my submission to this inquiry – and everyone else’s – at this link.  Mine is number 61.  The transcripts of the public hearings are at this link. I appeared as the second witness at the Canberra hearings on 18 September.

The Committee is due to report on 16 November.

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17 Comments

  1. I liked your submissions and one that was close to home relates to the restriction of hours worked. In my experience it is one of the most disregarded provisions going round – and rightly so becaue many cannot survive on 20 hours work per week when you pay for rent, food, transport, books, etc. My brother was a restaurant manager who was told by his superiors to doctor the timesheets or pay cash to the students when they worked over twenty hours (which was pretty much every week outside the exam periods).

    Regarding information about Australia before people emigrate, I guess that could be a mandatory part of the advertising of a university – kind of a prospectus.

  2. “While a lot of the media coverage has focused on violence towards some students in some southern states, there are many other systemic problems with policies affecting international students which merit consideration.”

    Like the fact that the whole international student “industry” is just one giant cash-for-residency immigration racket?

    Andrew professes great concern for the interests of non-citizens, but what about the national interest? Allowing Australia’s higher education institutions to be shamelessly used as visa factories for foreign students lured here solely by the promise of permanent residency upon graduation can hardly be said to be in the best interests of the nation.

    As Peter Wilkinson writes in his eye-opening book “The Howard Legacy: Displacement of Traditional Australia from the Professional and Managerial Classes” (2007), Australia’s universities “market themselves as providing education but they know, and certainly their prospective applicants know, that they are marketing permanent residency visas.”

    Wilkinson notes how the universities are effectively discriminating against Australian students by lowering the standard for full fee-paying foreign students, who can then apply for a visa on the basis of the conceded pass.

    But young Australians aren’t the only ones who suffer. As a number of studies have found, most of these foreign students are below-par in terms of skills and abilities, and are economically unnecessary. At the same time, degrees and qualifications are being dumbed down to accommodate the huge number of foreign students who, having paid big wads of cash, expect their PR. So Australia as a whole loses out both ways by handing out permanent residency to sub-standard, foreign-born graduates while also degrading the quality of its domestic degrees. This cash-for-residency scam also provides an almost clear pathway to Australian citizenship, thus diminishing its value and meaning.

  3. From Wilkinson’s “The Howard Legacy”:

    “Australian politics has a set of largely unspoken bipartisan beliefs and policy directions whereby:

    • We believe that our own citizens do not have sufficient innate ability to make Australia a prosperous knowledge economy, so we need immigrants of high cognitive ability.

    • We can skimp on educating our own children and compensate by bringing in immigrants with the advanced education which is necessary for the knowledge economy.

    • Even better, they must pay for that education in Australia, so that the government can cut grants to the universities for educating Australians.

    • We are comfortable with letting the children of recently arrived immigrants have unfettered access to our premium schools and universities, displacing children of long-standing Australians from the prestige universities and the lucrative professions.

    • We are not concerned that universities discriminate against Australian students by lowering the standard for overseas students, who can then apply for a visa on the basis of the conceded pass.

    • We are comfortable with introducing an economy dominant ethnic minority at the expense of long-established families.

    • We are not concerned that the combination of the economy dominant Chinese and increasing trade pressures will place Australia under the influence of superpower China rather than the USA.”

  4. Edward, I presume you are just mouthing off based on what you assume I think, without actually reading my submission or my verbal evidence to this inquiry.

    I specifically state in both my written submission and my verbal evidence that directly linking a qualification to a visa outcome is a bad idea which distorts both the education services market and the skilled visa program.

    None the less, the suggestion the whole industry is “one giant cash-for-residency immigration racket” is a silly exaggeration.

    I don’t know if you are accurately summarising the Wilkinson book or not, but the suggestion that any side of politics believes that “our own citizens do not have sufficient innate ability to make Australia a prosperous knowledge economy” is risible.

    The simple fact is we have significant skills shortages and general labour market shortages which will not go away, and cannot be fully addressed without significant migration for decades to come. This is an inevitable consequence of the baby boomer population bubble moving into retirement.

    It is true that the Howard government cut back on investment in education and training – this has made the problem worse than it needed to be, but it will still need significant migration to address, including people who are either already skilled, or strengthen their skills here.

    But it is international students who suffer from poor education services. It doesn’t harm Australia (at least in the short term), as the nation as a whole, and education institutions in general, make a very healthy profit out of these students, some of who are being seriously over-charged to receive sub-standard courses.

  5. Yes, Andrew, I would like to know why the enormous income generated from educating foreign students isn’t being made available to support Australian students through Austudy and/or reduced fees, and to improve educational outcomes in our schools.

    From Edward’s post:

    “We are not concerned that the combination of the economy dominant Chinese and increasing trade pressures will place Australia under the influence of superpower China rather than the USA.”

    This is certainly a significant cause for concern, especially since Kevin Rudd has had a “nationality change operation”.

    A couple of weeks ago, I saw Wayne Swan on a political program. He said the 21st century would be the “Asian Century”.

  6. Andrew, it is indeed Dr. Wilkinson’s contention that there is a belief in Australian politics, reflected in our immigration policies, that “our own citizens do not have sufficient innate ability to make Australia a prosperous knowledge economy.”

    As for my “silly exaggeration,” allow me to ask this: do you believe Australia would still attract such a large number of foreign students if there did not exist a nexus between an Australia qualification and permanent residency? In most other Western countries, foreign students account for less than 10 per cent of the total student population. No prizes for guessing why the proportion is so much higher in Australia.

    “The simple fact is we have significant skills shortages and general labour market shortages which will not go away..”

    What economically illiterate rubbish.

    Anybody with even a cursory understanding of economics knows that in a market economy there is no such thing as a “labour shortage”, only an unwillingness on the part of business to pay high enough wages.

    As British economist Martin Wolf put it:

    “This point is ignored in some of the bad economic arguments made for immigration. Businesses, for example, protest that without immigration they would suffer chronic labour shortages. Yet, in an economy operating at close to full employment, some categories of worker will always be in excess demand. The market response is higher wages and more training. Understandably, business does not want to pay these costs. But some residents will, inevitably, be losers if they import labour instead.

    Moreover, this is a self-defeating policy: if the response to “shortages” is to import labour, additional demand for goods and services and further shortages of labour will emerge. The argument from shortages creates an open-ended demand for more immigration: if the UK had a population of 120m it would still have job shortages and so a demand for yet more immigration. The demand could never be satisfied.”

  7. “A couple of weeks ago, I saw Wayne Swan on a political program. He said the 21st century would be the “Asian Century”.”

    This is true.

    Does that mean that Australia should become an Asian colony for the sake of trade? Of course not.

    The claim that Australia needs to become ethnically more Asian in order to ‘enmesh’ itself into Asian markets is actually an argument against national diversity. If it takes a Chinese to deal with the Chinese, how are Australians supposed to get along with the Chinese who live in Australia?

    The fact that Asian countries such as Japan have been able to build strong trade relations with Western countries without having to import millions of Westerners just how little immigration and “diversity” have to do with foreign trade.

  8. I’m not particularly interested in trading insults Edward. The future labour market shortage is just a demographic reality. Suggesting it would disappear if business just paid higher wages is one of the odder notions I’ve read in quite a while.

    Given your confirmation of Dr Wilkinson’s view, which I assume is also your own, that our politicians believe Australian citizens “do not have sufficient innate ability to make Australia a prosperous knowledge economy”, I can only say that both he and you are 100 % wrong. I also fail to see why Australia should deny itself the benefit of the widest range of ideas and abilities which comes from being an open society.

    I haven’t seen anyone suggest Australia should become an Asian colony, so arguing against the notion is rather redundant. Australia hasn’t been a colony of anywhere for a while and the more diverse our linkages to the outside world, the less captive to single countries or regions we will be.

    Your description of how ethnic engagement works suggests some sort of ethnically segregated society, which is the exact opposite of where we should be and, in general terms, are heading. If people, regardless of their ethnic background, become more aware of and skilled in how to engage with Chinese people – or people of any other culture – that’s a good thing. Living amongst people with such skills and background increases our ability to be able to do that well, and vice versa.

  9. “The future labour market shortage is just a demographic reality.”

    Oh really?

    “THE Rudd government’s alarm about retiring Baby Boomers causing economic growth to fall is unfounded and its policy response — to bring in tens of thousands of overseas workers a year — is wrong because of the rapid rise in over-55s staying at work.

    According to a new report, a sustained increase in the labour force participation rate among men and women aged over 55 since the mid-1990s, continuing even as jobs are shed during the global economic downturn, should put a large question mark over the immigration program.

    If immigration continues at current levels, the group most likely to suffer is young Australian jobseekers trying to enter the workforce, it concludes.

    *snip*

    “The Immigration Minister’s fear that, without continued, unprecedented high levels of overseas migration, the Australian labour force will soon contract is unfounded,” the report concludes. “In the present economic environment of employment decline, sustained high levels of overseas migration are not necessary to ensure adequate labour force growth and such levels are compromising the employment prospects of younger job-seekers.”

    The report’s author, CPUR social researcher Ernest Healy, told The Australian the Rudd government “appears to have been more alarmist than it needed to be in terms of population ageing and labour supply.

    “The assumption by the government has been that all these Baby Boomers are going to retire and there will be this crisis of labour growth, but they simply don’t seem to be retiring in the numbers the government has been expecting.”

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25788988-5013871,00.html

  10. “Suggesting it would disappear if business just paid higher wages is one of the odder notions I’ve read in quite a while.”

    Actually, I am suggesting that you stop using bogus economic camoflage to conceal your true motives for championing mass immigration.

    Using immigration to fill “shortages” ignores the fact that in any economy, irrespective of continual changes in the overall pattern of demand, there will be from time to time excess outputs of some goods or services and shortages of others, and therefore an excess of labour in others. Without recourse to continual importing and exporting of labour, a market economy is able to cope with these unavoidable vicissitudes in demand simply through changes in the price of the relevant goods and services.

    “Given your confirmation of Dr Wilkinson’s view, which I assume is also your own, that our politicians believe Australian citizens “do not have sufficient innate ability to make Australia a prosperous knowledge economy”, I can only say that both he and you are 100 % wrong.”

    Actions speak louder than words. The fact that our politicians would prefer to import foreigners en masse rather than invest more in the education and training of our own people would suggest that they believe our existing citizens “do not have sufficient innate ability to make Australia a prosperous knowledge economy.” Personally, I think it is matter of expediency rather than belief. High immigration means more customers, cheaper labour, and minimal training costs for the major parties’ mates in big business. The concentrated benefits enjoyed by these special interest groups trump the unorganised interests of the Australian majority who bear the costs.

  11. This really is an interesting topic.

    We must remember that when the government does a head count of those in employment, it includes those who only have 1 hour’s work a week. Thus the level of unemployment is much higher than the figures released.

    I think there is a very high level of unemployment in the 45+ age group and among the very young. One solution to this might be to encourage high school students to devote themselves solely to their studies, and not take on part-time jobs. This would improve educational outcomes and free up work for both very young and older people to be employed full-time.

    It would also reduce the welfare bill.

    The main reason people in the 55+ age group are not retiring is due to huge losses of superannuation of 20% or more.

    I think Edward is right about there being a connection between labour shortages and poor wages. The fruit picking industry and nursing come immediately to mind.

    One of the local aged care centres now employs mostly Asian nurses. This place is owned by a multi-national corporation said to be sending money out of the country. It owns nearly all of Australia’s large private aged care chains.

    Only a couple of weeks ago, one of the nurses told me that the staff have been banned from discussing the level of wages each nurse receives.

    On the “Insiders” program a few weeks ago, the Minister for Health and Ageing would only guarantee the wages of existing aged care nurses. It sounded as if new nurses might receive lower wages under industrial relations streamlining.

    I know a man who works for a private company training Indian apprentices. He now has his second batch of 38 students. The man’s own son cannot get an apprenticeship.

    I’ve also seen on the TV news, cases where Asian students are piled into overcrowded houses and charged a lot of money for inferior vocational training. These students have come here on falsified visas.

  12. A few months ago, a spokesman from the UK stated that in the future, there would be only so many million jobs and billions of people without work. I think his main reasoning was related to technological advances and mechanisation.

    A friend who works for Centrelink told me she has lots of young people on her books who wouldn’t work in an iron lung. She wants their payments cut off. However, it would make more sense to me to make them work for their money, not under a “Work for the Dole” scheme, but under a “Work for Pay” scheme.

    I suggested this to Peter Dutton (federal Liberal MP) some years ago, but I guess no one was interested.

    Kevin Rudd has done the right thing in training an additional 7000 nurses, of which there was a severe shortage, but a lot of the nurses are coming here on visas from overseas countries. I’m afraid their right to a fair rate of pay is being abused, with negative effects on Australian workers.

    Not unlike many other developed countries, we have deficits in the Age Pyramid which are in need of correction, to ensure that ageing baby boomers are looked after in their old age.

    This is why John Howard brought in the baby bonus and encouraged people to have at least 3 children.

    It is my view that the multi-national corporations are taking advantage of problems with the Age Pyramid and labour shortages to line their own pockets.

  13. The transcript was interesting, brought back all that grim farce that 4 Corners ran a little while back.
    Sort of like out of an Orson Welles movie.
    Just awfully unsavoury. Unthought through in its conception and implementation- another of the species represented by the US occupation of Iraq- sterile.

  14. And, whaddya know.
    Lateline last night tells a very unwelcome story indeed of private “colleges” going bust and leaving staff and students alike high and dry again.
    Is this the squalid reality of our much vaunted international education system?

  15. Paul Walter:

    Yes, I’ve seen items on TV where the private colleges have gone bust leaving students high and dry. I think the universities will do their best to accommodate their needs.

    Did you know that educating foreign university students is now our third largest export earner?

    Instead of using the money earned to help Australian students, I think the money goes into the private sector.

    When I worked for a university in the late 1970s, we received funding from both the state and federal governments. Now there is NO federal funding of universities at all and students are left with huge HECS debts to repay.

    A lot of funding now goes into private schools, to the tune of around $5000 per student. I think the federal contribution is about $3500.

    Added to that, Howard gave private schools 2/3 of the building funds, when they were only educating 30% of the students. To my knowledge, this hasn’t changed under Labor, and now the private sector is educating 40% of the high school students.

    It seems to me that the more the government funds private schools and child care centres, the more the service providers feel free to rack up their charges – which probably saves parents little or nothing.

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