Universities crack down on South Asian students

Courtney Bahnemann
Courtney Bahnemann

As Australian-Indian ties strengthen, why have universities around Australia been placing bans and restrictions on students from various South-Asian countries, including India?

At the end of January 2023, almost 70,000 Indian students were enlisted to be studying in Australia — the second-largest cohort of international students in the country.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited India earlier this year to simultaneously celebrate their budding ties and to announce a new agreement between the two countries: the `Australia-India Education Qualification Recognition Mechanism’.

“This new mechanism means that if you are an Indian student who is studying or have studied in Australia, your hard-earned degree will be recognised when you return home,” explained Albanese at the Australia-India Annual Leaders’ Summit in New Delhi. 

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“Or if you are a member of Australia’s very large Indian diaspora – 500,000 and growing – you will feel more confident that your Indian qualification will be recognised in Australia,” he continued.

Deakin University, one of Australia’s leading tertiary education providers, have also recently announced that they will become the first university in the world to open an international teaching campus in India come January 2024.

Bans on South Asian students

According to reports, a current surge in fraudulent applications from South Asia seeking work opportunities – not study – has prompted universities to ban applicants from flagged areas to pre-empt students’ “risk-rating” being downgraded. 

In February, Edith Cowan University (ECW) placed an outright ban on applicants from the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana, closely followed by Victoria University’s restrictions on applications from states Utter Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Gujarat. 

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The University of Wollongong has also intensified its “genuine temporary entrant” test on students from countries including India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Lebanon, Mongolia, Nigeria, and Adelaide’s Torrens University said it was only considering “very strong” applications from Gujarat, Haryana and Punjab.

According to SBS Punjabi, a representative from ECW wrote in an email that steps are being taken “due to an increase in the number of visa refusals from these regions, as well as concerns raised regarding students’ academic progress, and we want to take the necessary precautions to protect the interests of genuine students.”

“The primary reason behind this action is that applicants from these states are infamous for submitting fake documents regarding their study gap, financial capacity and even English language requirements,” says Melbourne-based migration agent Navjot Kailay.

“This crackdown isn’t something new. They have been doing it from time to time.”

Chief executive officer of the International Student Association of Australia, Phil Honeywood, said there has also been a tend of students enrolling in expensive public universities to give their visa application legitimacy, only to shift to a low-fee private college once within Australian borders.

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Just another form of discrimination?

Rohit, now working full time in an advertising company in Queensland, was not motivated to move to Australia for work.

“I had my degree and I had a business back in Mumbai,” said Rohit.

“I wanted to complete my masters and experience a new country at the same time. I had a brother in Melbourne, so it was a no-brainer,” continued Rohit. “I had every intention to move back to India, but I fell in love with Australia – the people, the lifestyle, and the overall quality of life.”

President of the Association of Australian Education Representatives in India (AAERI) Ravi Lochan Singh said in a letter addressed to Minister of Education Jason Clare that the assumption that all students from Punjab and Haryana are at fault is “grossly unfair and discriminatory”.

“This issue concerns all of us, and we refuse to accept simplistic measures to reduce visa refusals or to safeguard visa rates. There are genuine students who reside in North India, and they need to be given a fair go,” said Singh.

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“Not all applicants are wanting to come to Australia with the intention of working or even to stay,” said Rohit. “But, it is extremely hard to leave once you’re here.”

The importance of South-Asian students

In 2019, before the world was put on hold, international education was worth about $40.3 billion to the Australian economy – a number that has been essentially halved as of December, 2022.

Students from South Asia currently make up more than 30 per cent of those studying here and support more than 250,000 jobs, proving to be an invaluable demographic for international revenue. 

If we are to get the international education industry back up to where it was before the pandemic, flagging particular countries and putting others on hold is not the way to do it. 

Furthermore, by allowing the strengthening ties to South Asian countries to continue encourages Australia’s Asia capabilities, an initiative the government has been wanting to improve on for some time now.

For how much longer these bans and restrictions will remain in place , we’re not sure. What we are sure of is that damaging ties between two countries that otherwise have a successful partnership could potentially be catastrophic to an already hurting economy, not to mention to an education system already fraught with issues.

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