Australia has seen an exponential rise in the number of international and postgraduate students over the last decade, with over 400,000 internationals and 100,000 postgraduates expected to begin or continue study this year. As these groups continue to grow in size, the systemic inequalities that arise between these groups and domestic undergraduates are becoming more apparent.
Public transport concession is a perfect example. For many students, a concession on travel is a necessity that saves in excess of $40-$90 a month depending on zoning – money that can be spent on rent, clothing, food, and other essentials. But for international and postgraduate students, it is a necessity that they are barred from accessing.
Regarding international students in particular, it has been shown repeatedly in government inquiries and reports that these students often resort to walking home late at night rather than paying the full fare for public transport. This raises issues relating to public safety and vulnerability to crime, with lighting and visibility issues being problematic, particularly for female students.
The intersection with race can also act to further marginalise international students. This was shown most visibly by a spate of racially motivated attacks on Indian students in 2009. These attacks led to a decrease in Indian student enrolments by 60%, with a recent survey revealing that two in three Indians now believe Australia is a dangerous place for international students.
Internationals have argued that it is sometimes more than just simply an economic issue. “It’s an issue of othering”, said an unnamed international student. Buying a full fare on a regular basis is another constant reminder that they are part of the ‘other’ – not a domestic student – somehow undeserving of a concession rate, regardless of the fact that they pay the same taxes, study the same degree and commonly live on the same budget as domestic students.
Furthermore, international students face issues around legal rights and access to utilities and services. A lack of understanding of their legal rights has been shown to lead to shoddy ‘cash-in-hand’ work arrangements, unstable casualisation of work, long hours, and an unfair balance of power towards landlords in tenancy agreements and disputes. International students are also ineligible for Medicare, as international students are treated as ‘private’ citizens.
Both postgraduate and international students should be allies in this fight, as both experience shocking amounts of graduate debt (with some non-CSP places costing in excess of $100,000-$150,000), can be forced to work on top of a full-time study load (for international students, under-loading may affect student visa eligibility; for postgraduates, not obtaining a scholarship means having to work on top of full-time research), and lose out on important domestic benefits such as Youth Allowance. These issues can all compound to limit the accessibility of their education to these students and lead to an additional burden that goes against equality and fairness.
Education is Australia’s third largest export sector, generating a whopping $18.6 billion in 2009. Among this number, a high proportion of the income involving higher education comes from the overpricing of degrees to international and postgraduate students.
Victoria in particular is the final frontier for the fight against inequality of an international student transport concession, with every other state and territory providing either university-subsidised, or state-based travel concessions for international students. Victoria also remains a hub for postgraduate full-fare travel.
Our government and our universities see the international and postgraduate student cohort as cash cows that can be milked for profits. So why would they want to subsidise travel and lose a chunk of their revenue? Simple. Recognition and international rankings.
We need to remind the administration that access to concession rates for all students would help Monash look appealing to international students (and thus increase its profits through a higher international student cohort), and that a Victorian postgraduate concession card would also allow greater access to university for postgraduates (thus increasing their competition with other postgraduates across Australia, and the world).
The Monash Student Association’s Student Representative Network is working towards informing the broad student body in second semester about this issue of fair fares through petitioning, social media, and talking to students on campus about these issues. In the future, the group plans to approach the State Parliament in 2014 with a petition for legislative change in the lead up to the State Election. If you would like to become a part of the campaign for transport equality here at Monash, please email the Education (Public Affairs) Officers at msa-education@ monash.edu or call 9905 5493.