Friday, November 27, 2009

An injustice?

Today I took the train to work. As work is only one stop from home on the trainline, it's much of a muchness in terms of time whether I walk to work or take the train. The deciding factor is usually the weather. As it gets hot and sunny I usually take the train to avoid the sun - I'll do almost anything to avoid the sun.

Over the last few weeks there's been quite a few railway guards checking tickets at the station exit - the Devonshire Street exit from Central Station, which is the most convenient stop for a lot of tertiary education institutions - UTS, Sydney TAFE, and many private colleges. Invariably, I see the guards stopping people I assess to be international students - young, carrying backpacks or bags, almost always of Chinese or South Asian background.

My initial response was to be angry at the guards for what seemed like their casual racism. But once I'd stopped to think, what I'm actually angry at is an example of real systemic discrimination.

Except for the small group of exchange students, international students studying at tertiary institutions in New South Wales are not eligible for student travel concessions, though they are in all other states except Victoria. Some people (clearly including the NSW government) think they should not be eligible as they are not Australian citizens or permanent residents. However, many international students do work while they study and consequently pay Australian taxes, and all of them are paying fees of around $20,000 or more a year (that include a GST component) that cross-subsidise the university or TAFE education of local Australian students.

Under the Howard Liberal government, federal funding to higher education was drastically reduced over time and universities looked to other sources of income - principally the recruitment of international students. As Australian students pay significantly less in fees than the real cost of their study, the fees paid by international students have gradually become a significant source of funding for basic infrastructure and teaching that benefit both local and international students. I regard education as a public good and I'm certainly not arguing that Australian students should pay more, but it seems unjust to me that fees from students from developing countries such as China, India, Pakistan and even Bangladesh pay for the education of local students in a wealthy, developed economy. I guess this is just one of the many absurd outcomes of expecting market forces to find solutions to matters of public benefit.

So, back to the students being stopped by the guards at Central Station. Maybe they have invalidly claimed a student concession for their travel, or perhaps even tried to avoid payment altogether. I know that a belief in the unfairness of a law or rule is usually (though not always) no justification for flouting the law, but in this particular instance I would feel very hard done by if I were an international student. On the one hand they pay fees and taxes that support local students, and on the other hand they are not treated equitably.

International students, and student associations more broadly, have been protesting against the stupidity and injustice of the present system for years, but without a satisfactory outcome. International students don't have a vote, but maybe those of us who do should make this an issue in the next state election.


Cecilia said...

I had no idea international students don't get travel concession. I find that outrageous. Thanks for writing about this.

kms said...

the treatment of international students in the tertiary sector is pretty much a disgrace all round. they are being pushed out of their home countries due to high unemployment and we take them (and their dollars) gladly but provide no real intellectual, financial or personal support, letting them flounder within the system. and then add insult to injury in the form of penny pinching over travel fares while they work all sorts of hours polishing my car at the shopping centre. and then we add a good dose of racism on top! meanwhile 56000 UK migrants arrive by so-called legal means and no one bats an eyelid. hello!! sorry, getting off my soapbox now. but i agree lyn, its a terrible injustice.

LynS said...

I'm very happy to share this soapbox with you, Kylie!

Sel and Poivre said...

This is perhaps a rather shallow response to your thoughtful post but coming from Canada its so surprising to hear of someone taking the train to avoid the sun - for us its a case of avoiding cold!

Bells said...

i used to work in International Education in my Govt department and was thankful to get an insight into this huge money spinner for the country.

they are treated appallingly. It's horrible. I worked in an area of compliance - checking the education providers and migration agents who rip them off and ruin their lives.