Now Australian vice chancellors, police officials head for India to assure students

June 25th, 2009 - 3:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Kevin Rudd By Murali Krishnan
Canberra, June 25 (IANS) Rattled by the spate of attacks against Indian students that has sparked protests in Melbourne and Sydney, the Australian government is sending yet another high-level delegation, comprising vice chancellors and even police officials, to New Delhi next week to explain the measures it has taken to address international students’ concerns.

This is the second such delegation to visit India after Lisa Paul, Australia’s secretary of the department of education, employment and workplace relations, met Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi in New Delhi this week and assured that a regulatory mechanism would be in place to keep an eye on agents of universities whom students contact and ensure proper wage for students engaged in part-time jobs here.

The next delegation will be led by Colin Walters, the head of the international group of the department of education, accompanied by vice chancellors and even police officials who will visit key states from where Australia attracts students and explain the response to the at least 16 incidents of violence in the last few weeks.

“We are trying to get across students’ personal security and touch base with the educational providers to see that they address concerns of students,” Grahame Cooke, the acting secretary and head of the recently instituted taskforce on education, told IANS in an interview here.

Australia’s education industry has boomed in recent years to become the country’s third-largest export earner after coal and iron ore, generating about $12 billion in revenue in 2008.

Officials in the Indian high commission here said the nearly 100,000 Indian students in Australia contribute $3.5 billion a year to economy.

“Additional police patrols are in place in some of the areas where Indian students habit but more importantly we are trying to fast-track the legislative framework - called the Educational Services for Overseas Students Act - to keep pace with the changes,” said Cooke.

“Already we have in place a hotline whereby students can raise racist issues and report crime. This will in no way affect their visa status here.”

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has already stated in parliament following the spate of attacks that his government was considering bringing forward aspects of its review of counter-terrorism legislation which includes overhauling sedition laws.

Rudd has set up another special taskforce, headed by National Security Adviser Duncan Lewis, to deal with the proposal.

The proposals being considered by the government will target those who incite violent attacks against overseas students because of their race or nationality, rather than the perpetrators of physical violence.

“We want to renew our energies to provide the best quality of education and to improve the system,” said Cooke.

Officials in the education department also realise that they need to keep a check on the private institutes, especially in Melbourne, that have mushroomed in the vocational sector and which in turn hire agents for a hefty commission to bring in more students especially from India.

Indian students, particularly those enrolled in hospitality and cookery disciplines - both hotly favoured courses - are entitled to work by law only a 20-hour week.

“Some of these fly-by-night agents send students, especially from Punjab, to cheap institutions and leave. So many of them have to fend for themselves and have to earn more,” said an official on condition of anonymity.

In their attempt to make more money, many students work in the night and do odd jobs such as waiters or cleaners in restaurants. Since they head back home late and in public transport where security is negligible in far-flung areas, they encounter hooligans who move in groups.

“Many of these incidents that have happened over the weeks in Australia are because of these precise reasons… people being at the wrong places at the wrong times. But that is no excuse and we need to improve the security and it is happening,” said the official.

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