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Wounding the sacred cash cow

Wounding the sacred cash cow article image

Now that tensions have eased over the Indian student attacks, I thought I'd approach the topic to stimulate a real discussion about the issues at hand. First, and I shouldn't need to say this but maybe I need to, all forms of violence should be condemned, whether against Indian students, or people who are neither Indian nor students. Second, the education sector in Australia is reportedly our third highest value export - and top service export - and that doesn't count the indirect income it brings from inbound students who contribute through their participation in the economy. Some people also suggest educational standards have bowed to attract high paying international students. Third, being educated in Australia is often seen as a gateway for skilled immigration. How are these three points linked? Well, an increase in violence against students makes Australia as an education destination less attractive, never mind the promise of getting a visa. This is not good for our international reputation, nor our bottom line. India is one of the countries Australia should court. I believe India will be a bigger economic player than China in another three decades due to its young population and domestically-driven economy. Given our shared Commonwealth roots, and the size of the Indian community in Australia, I'm surprised we're not closer to be honest. Shame. But the protests against the attacks did highlight another thing: Indians students aren't just cash cows and therefore concerns about safety shouldn't be ignored until it bursts into mass protests, diplomatic action and Indian citizens burning effigies of Kevin Rudd. However, there was a rumour that Indian students were not reporting attacks because they feared that going to the police and filing a report would affect their future visa status. So whose responsibility is it to bring justice to attackers when incidents remain unreported? There's nothing wrong with coming to Australia to be educated with view to migrating here. I agree, bar the recent violence, that Australia is a great place to live. And despite the recent economic woes we still have a distinct skills shortage in certain areas, so skilled migration is certainly a help. However, we need to decouple the education system from the migration system. The faint promise of a visa after graduating is not an ideal unique selling proposition: we should compete on the strength of our educational offering and our learning environment, not a migration future. That way we solve three problems at once: students can feel free to report violence and steps can be taken before it becomes a diplomatic issue; the education sector can focus on becoming the best education system in the world and stop compromising standards to keep a hand on international student wallets; and our beleaguered immigration department can have clarity around real educational standards and real skills to service our society. Let's turn a cash cow into something more sacred: educated people who will contribute their knowledge and skills to society.

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