International students in Australia have a reason to be concerned: aside from the ongoing violence and the unscrupulous employment practices that many have been subject to, it has recently emerged that 41 private education institutes across Victoria will be audited due to widespread scams taking place in the sector.
Following a year of complaints, the Skills Minister, Jacinta Allen has finally agreed to investigate the problems. This however was not before several large colleges closed mid-year leaving students thousands of dollars out of pocket and unsure of their futures.
The international student market is Australia’s third largest export market after coal and iron ore, taking in $15 billion in 2008. Governmental changes to skilled migration programs, which enable international students to apply for residency through particular skilled courses, have been a major contributor to the massive growth in this sector.
Dodgy private colleges eager to cash in on the international student market have sprung up over the last few years offering useless certificates for tens of thousands of dollars. At the same time unscrupulous landlords and employers are taking advantage of the influx of international students.
Profiteering in the education sector is nothing new. Following the deregulation initiated under the Hawke/Keating Labor government, students have become commodities to be traded and exploited for the benefit of private providers. Privatisation of education and the user-pays system also means that employers are relieved of paying for many of the costs associated with training workers.
Deregulation and user-pays has had an adverse affect on the quality of education in Australia. Many students are also now forced to work fulltime while studying and this leaves them unable to cover the entire curriculum for each subject. The system has also worsened the class divisions in society as richer students are able to afford the huge costs while poorer students have to miss out.
While all students do it tough, international students are the most exploited. Often they are forced to work very long hours in order to pay exorbitant upfront fees. Often, due to high rental prices, they are also forced to live huge distances away from both work and college without access to public transport concessions.
In a saner world international students would be embraced as welcome contributors to society. They would help to further our understanding of their countries as they experience ours. But under capitalism, where profits come before all else, they are seen as nothing more than cash cows.
Education should be a right, and not simply a conveyor belt into the work force. The Government should stop all funding to private education providers and instead expand the public sector. Strict regulations should apply to ensure quality education is provided across the board. If the profit motive was removed from the sector we could immediately make education from childcare to university free and accessible to all.
By SP reporters