Sunday, April 18, 2010

Australia - India Student Attacks - Real Story behind it all

Allegations in the Indian media over the attacks on a section of Indian students by Australian origin people have been flying thick and fast over the last 6-8 months. Racist overtures linked to the attacks have taken the sheen off the Australian higher education sector which at least until the episodes started falling out of the closet was the 3rd largest revenue earner for the economy Down Under.

However a recent Times of India story reveals what could possibly be the real underlying story. An intricate mix of wrong policies by the Australian government in the education sector, the desire of students from 3 Indian states seeking PR (permanent residency) linked El-dorado abroad, the sinister nexus between private vocational course institutions in Australia and agents masquerading as educational providers and luring students, a weak visa approval system - all combining to create the disaster portrayed by the media.

Here are some eye opening facts (excerpts from the ToI article)
  1. To focus solely on race, as the Indian media had done, detracted attention from the more important factors that caused the crisis in the first place. 
  2. The most significant factor by far was the decision taken by the previous John Howard government to open up the vocational education sector to private groups and link it with migration. This was the government's logic: invite young people to study in the country in order to boost earnings from education; persuade them to develop vocational skills needed to grease the wheels of the economy; give them permission to do part-time work even while they took their courses; above all, dangle before them the carrot of PR status two years after their arrival, provided they acquired a certain number of points in their studies. 
  3. The policy was disastrous on many counts. Individuals with no experience in the educational field, including a shop assistant from Kerala, were allowed to open colleges. The government did not bother to find out how they functioned.
  4. The handiwork of Indian agents — nearly 1,700 at the last count — whose job was to lure prospective applicants with tall promises. In return for an investment of Rs 12-15 lakh, Most of the agents' 'victims' came from three states — Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and, above all, Punjab. The agent's commission ran-ged between 15-20% of the overall expenditure. 
  5. Aiding, if not quite abetting, the agent was Australia's lax visa regime. The visa-seeker had to furnish proof that he had enough money in the bank to pay for the travel, tuition fees and lodging and boarding costs for two years. This was easily done by obtaining a loan for 3 months to be deposited in a savings account.
  6. Last but not least, the lack of a support system on arrival for the student led him to be associated with students who had arrived just like him - work long hours part time for  lower wages than local populace, get paid in cash making him/her a target of local anti-social youth.

Getting an idea how complex the root of a problem really is. And to assume that racism is the only thing that is true about all these attacks as our media chose to portray. As people who consume news, we should be more discerning.

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