The Federation University Branch of the NTEU has called a lunchtime protest this Thursday 1 Sept, 2022, to begin a campaign highlighting damage wrought by endless restructures, job cuts, and course cuts. Speakers will address the core issues of job security and mismanagement, protesting irrational and incoherent decisions, poor governance, poor student outcomes, and the undermining of regional communities.
One should be aware, however, that the Times values are rather commercial, pro-globalisation, and overly respectful of professional peer-review, which has attracted its own criticism.
Recently my father asked me to guess what the second most important export industry is in Australia. I failed to guess. He informed me that he had just learned that it was universities from the Insiders program on the ABC.
On reflection, I was not surprised. An 'export industry'; that is what our institutions of higher learning have become important for. It seems hardly worth saying that the commercialising of knowledge makes its corruption inevitable because everyone I know that has anything to do with higher education has been deploring what has been happening to higher education now for a couple of decades. Every year it gets worse.
We are selling a shonky brand called Australian education to the high bidders on the world market. The last time I was in a university the foreign students outnumbered the locals at about 98% to 2%. Although the lectures were conducted in English, it was clear from the accents and the anxious faces that English was not the first language and Australia was not the first home of most of the participants.
That was not the only thing that had changed from the days when Australian universities were principally for the higher education of Australians and we felt that we had ownership of them, as taxpayers.
Instead of the old laid-back lecture theatre style, the lectures in this commercialised 21st century course were multi-media to a ridiculous point. The lecturer did not just stand at the front and talk, he simultaneously delivered in powerpoint. As he spoke, the lecture and powerpoint were being filmed and recorded for upload to the course website. Students with passwords could download their lectures later. In fact, lectures were supposed to be uploaded a couple of days to a week in advance.
Coursework was assisted and, in many cases actually done by the lecturer/tutor.
The course was a graphic interface design course in the C# programming language (pronounced C Sharp) based on an incredibly expensive proprietary platform, which the university in question provided to the students at special student prices. There were continuous problems with versions and permissions. These problems meant that students were frequently prevented from studying, doing prac-work and completing assignments. So many were affected that the people running the course seemed to have decided to bring the students in and 'coach' them through one to one, which really meant doing their work with them and for them. Such was the rate of problems with the software that it had to be constantly and individually troubleshooted.
I was amazed to realise that an open-source platform - Java - very similar to this expensive and very poorly performing proprietary $4000 commercial software platform was available free on the internet. I also discovered that universities that taught information technology now tended to require students to use proprietary software, which they would once have built and designed themselves. Until recently, universities eschewed proprietary software as a matter of professional good judgement, wary of making their research and skill base vulnerable to restrictive commercial licencing. All proprietary software is based on free and open-source software, much of it developed in universities then bestowed to a world where it has since blossomed into a million new forms. It is only good sense to keep things that way. Anyone can use proprietary software, but only if they can afford it - which leaves out a few billion people. Whole countries now use free and/or open software for their public services and in schools. See, for instance, this list of linux using countries, which includes the US Department of Defense. The list does not include the Australian public service, schools, or universities, however. I have heard Australian children described at Linux meetings as among the worst prepared for computer engineering in the world.
Only the licensed few can analyse, develop and change proprietary software because the software is locked up by the owners. It is therefore pretty useless for anything except routine work. Why would universities lock their students into proprietary software? The only reason I can think of is that universities have become so profit- oriented that they accept information technology hardware and software packages that come with commercial incentives. That is, they receive money from proprietary software and hardware manufacturers to train students only on that brand. The upshot is that, in order to pursue info-tech careers, students are forced, once they graduate, to pay full price for these often very limited technologies. Furthermore, they are tied to working only with those brands. The brand that the university in question was working with used graphical interfaces [windows] rather than code, so the students were being taught in a special language that would give them little insight into the basic developer building blocks that are the free currency of the internet.
The above is just one example of how the profit motive has corrupted universities. It can be expanded to things like sociology and marketing, where 'research' that will make money attracts university support, making Australian universities corporate-friendly instead of democracy-friendly. See, for instance, The Australian Multicultural Foundation and the Institute for Global Movements in Scanlon Report underpins threat to Australian democracy. This is about the huge amount of resources directed into justifying and funding high immigration, despite its manifest unpopularity with the electorate.
Many Australian students can't compete financially with foreign students. It is hard to know why foreign students would pay so much to go to an Australian university when there are so many other universities in the world. One reason could be because of the immersion in English. Another reason is, of course, that the Australian state government lures high fee-paying students here with more or less covert promises of permanent migration and citizenship - a doorway to a second nationality and a 'first world' bolt-hole for wealthy internationals. We've also adopted the ridiculous North American practice of expecting people to work part-time and full-time while they do full-time and part-time courses.
Foreign students represent a large proportion of incoming migrants to Australia, both temporary and permanent. Along with other migrants, they are able to buy houses here. They are used and abused by commercial strategists to create part of the inflationary force that keeps housing unaffordable, along with universities, for Australians born here. Australian jobs are also affected, of course, because a large proportion of foreign students gain permission to work just by completing degrees here. Less well-known is that Australia imports foreign doctors and nurses who are then expected, not only to staff our hospitals, but often to study while they work in our universities. In the meantime Australian-born graduates cannot get positions in these hospitals. If you have recently worked as a nurse, you may have noticed that anyone with any status on a ward is probably also studying full or part time, even though they are working full-time. If these were substantial degree courses and/ or they were working responsibly and professionally, this would not be possible. The demands of university degrees or postgraduate degrees should be too great to allow for this and would have been so 30 years ago. There are obviously some commercial arrangements going on between hospitals, universities and recent immigrants, that most of us have no entry into and barely a clue about.
Australians had little or no democratic say in what has happened and in what is happening to their universities. In 2013, if you want to do a research degree then you had better be doing it for a commercial reason and be able to show that you will bring money to the university. That leaves precious little opportunity and almost no financial support for pure research in science, politics or the arts. Yet these things are the stuff of knowledge, civilisation and democracy.
"The interposition of editors and reviewers between authors and readers always raises the possibility that the intermediators may serve as gatekeepers. Some sociologists of science argue that peer review makes the ability to publish susceptible to control by elites and to personal jealousy. The peer review process may suppress dissent against "mainstream" theories. Reviewers tend to be especially critical of conclusions that contradict their own views, and lenient towards those that accord with them. At the same time, established scientists are more likely than less established ones to be sought out as referees, particularly by high-prestige journals or publishers. As a result, ideas that harmonize with the established experts' are more likely to see print and to appear in premier journals than are iconoclastic or revolutionary ones, which accords with Thomas Kuhn's well-known observations regarding scientific revolutions. Experts have also argued that invited papers are more valuable to scientific research because papers that undergo the conventional system of peer review may not necessarily feature findings that are actually important." (From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peer_review#Allegations_of_bias_and_suppression (Yes, I've cited Wikipedia - and why not; there is really active peer review in Wikipedia, and the summary here covers the main points and references them well.)
This article describes an example of the serious and inhumane impact, in the form of crisis involving several individuals, and a specific suburb and hospital system, of Australian immigration policy. The government is maintaining a policy of high mass immigration contrary to the wishes of the majority of citizens. Citizens have no useful outlet and no effective parliamentary representation on this.
The mass media covers matters in a manner that keeps the arguments circular and without constructive democratic outlet. For this reason candobetter.net serves an important purpose in expressing peoples' views and in exposing the impacts of the government's undemocratic and environmentally and socially harmful policy.
Student industry - easily abandoned cash-cows
In this article the push by universities to get students from overseas to make up finance shortfalls that once were supplied from taxes comes under the spotlight. The article looks at the cost to Australian students deprived of places and the cost to foreign students of maintaining their places. It also looks at how Victorian hospitals' bed shortages are a direct result of the effective push by the growth lobby to have more and more people in this country.
There is little revealed in the media of foreign student struggles, their impact on university courses and standards, their access to residency, and scams. Universities have become another industry, outsourced globally for economic benefits rather than institutions that aspire to quality education, learning, ethics and research – and a way to ensure our young people are able to reach their potential equitably.
Open to rorts and scams
The Federal government migration program, designed to attract thousands of young, highly skilled students to fill Australian jobs, has been "corrupted" by a Melbourne man who created a sophisticated scam that rorted the already dubious system.
Carmine Amarante made tens of thousands of dollars, and was expecting more in the future, by manufacturing hundreds of fraudulent documents for international students to ultimately become permanent residents.
The student scam also allows “students” to enter Australia without sufficient financial support, without tickets and money to pay for their air fares to return to their countries.
Our own personal experience
We have experience with an international student we were in contact with, from a country in South America. I will call her “G” so not to identify her.
We helped her find accommodation and we have invited her to join us for a few social and cultural events.
G has been under terrific stress - no job, no money, failed exams, not being able to pay rent, and then she developed a mental health issue - paranoia, delusions, crying and became suicidal.
She started a fire in the rented house she is in, and burnt her clothes and linen. She suffered bouts of paranoia and called the police three times, thinking she was being assaulted or raped.
G asked for help. We took her to a GP and he referred her to the local public hospital - one of the biggest in Melbourne. We stayed with her for 12 hours in the hope of getting a bed.
After my partner spent many hours with her, not long after he left she was released by the hospital, to another “student” who arrived at the emergency ward last moment. He had no money, was almost illegal himself, with inadequate accommodation and no car.
She had to be picked up at the station. She was threatening to escape, and she vowed she wasn't going to take “drugs”!
She was using her acquaintances and friends to borrow money. She had no job, her rented room was almost expired, and she wasn't welcome where she had been living.
Excessive stress on foreign students
This kind of situation has occurred before, with very serious consequences, such as when Huan Yun "Allen" Xiang, a 46 year old Chinese student with little social support, shot several people in his class at Monash university in 2002. Although Xiang might have developed paranoid schizophrenia anyway and was presumably a permanent citizen, since he ended up indefinitely at Thomas Embling Hospital for the criminally insane, he seems to have been isolated by language difficulties. As he began shooting, it was reported that "People in the classroom were initially confused by the noise and by Xiang screaming 'You never understand me!' from the desk he was standing on.". He would would also “curse the lecturer constantly in Cantonese” from the back of classrooms.
It should be recognised that the stress of being away from one's family and compatriots and studying in a new language, without adequate finances or whilst acquiring large debts, is guaranteed to increase health risks. If Universities are to have foreign students they should be responsible, caring and hospitable towards them and liaise with the Department of Immigration and the students' embassies. In the days of Columbo Plan students, foreign student welfare was taken seriously, but this caring attitude has fallen away as foreign students are now simply seen as cash cows.
Population growth drives bed shortages for locals and for immigrants
Our recent crisis was made worse by Victoria's hospital bed shortages. The impact of high population growth means that there was no bed for G at the local hospital. Despite overcrowding in this hospital already, the Victorian government is planning to greatly increase population and housing density in the surrounding suburban area. The “shortage” of beds is due to not the number of beds dwindling, but to our population boom!
G is not illegal at the moment as her visa has not expired. She was given more time to pay the university fees that she owes. If this time expires, so will her visa. There are no funds coming from her family. They live in poverty, and G was actually expected to sent money to them!
Quite legal to be vagrant in Australia
After ringing up “Immigration dob-in line,” I was informed that it is quite legal to stay in Australia unless the visa has expired, or there is some evidence of fraud. This is despite students being without income, accommodation, or not being able to pay for study fees. Even illness can't force them to be deported.
In Continental Europe, not having suitable accommodation or funds are grounds for being refused entry or sent home.
The Immigration Department won't do anything about students in need, or those causing problems to themselves or others until they are illegal! They don't even have to have money or ticket, (depending on the student visa type) and if they don't manage, Australian authorities generally do nothing! G can be destitute here and there is no duty of care from our government. The department of Immigration suggested that I should contact charities! Already our charities are over-used.
Foreign students are silently allowed to “fall through the cracks” of social support, but any criticism and exposure of them is based on “racism”?
Abandoned by the Embassy
The embassy of the country G came from was not interested in her difficult situation in Australia. They had no funds, despite the Ambassador being on a salary of $20,000 per month, with an office in Canberra!
The university tried to contact her, but got no response. We don't know where the money for her ticket home is coming from.
She is now in a public hospital ward in a psychiatric unit.
Poverty of foreign and Australian university students
Governments are reluctant to pay for the costs of educating Australians, and to give them the support they need. The growth of demand from international students, most of them from Asia, is a way of filling a potential gap in university enrollments which are now beyond the means of most Australians to pay. Foreign students are willing to pay for their own education, at full costs, at no expense to the Australian government.
Education has become Australia’s third largest export earner, after iron ore and coal.
High student poverty rates
Universities Australia has reported that one in eight Australian students surveyed by them told of regularly going without food or other necessities because they did not have enough money. According to the National Union of Students the maximum Youth Allowance benefit that an Australian student under 25 and living in a share house can receive is $245 per fortnight, which is 38% below the poverty line ($645.15 per fortnight). No wonder students are struggling.
Population groups which may be at particular risk of food insecurity include homeless people, those on low income or living in poverty, including people on pensions and benefits, unemployed people and students - including international students.
Universities Australia’s most recent survey found that one in eight students regularly go without food or other necessities because they don’t have enough money. Money Help’s financial counsellor Brian Kerr says, most of the students I’ve helped are international students who find themselves in financial difficulty. Students are on such a low income but the cost of being a student is so high.
Foreign students little more than slave labour
Overseas students getting as little as $6 an hour to work in local Asian restaurants are too afraid to complain for fear of losing even the meagre wages paid by their unscrupulous bosses.
They are here as cash-cows, to provide willing, cheap and flexible labour to businesses.
Little media attention
There is very little in the media about the problems of international students. It's a hidden industry, and the costs to our already strained charities is ignored.
The implications of universities being starved of funds and having to rely on international students has impacts on Australia's job market, especially for local students. Education here has been globalized, to our detriment.
Ambiguity of International students programs makes abuse likely, with serious consequences
Amarante admitted he was paid between $500 and $1000 for the 777 false work experience documents he created and had paid employers, some who were friends, some from referrals and others he approached on the street. This exposed “student” scandal further compromises our GSM (“general skilled migration”) program.
Of the 375 visa applications lodged under Amarante's false documents, 34 were granted permanent or temporary visas, 67 were refused, 217 remain pending and 57 were withdrawn.
Students coming to Australia should be interested in education, not residence in Australia. Learning and qualifications should be the motive, not living in Australian. Mixing immigration and education leaves this scheme open for corruption and distortion. It assumes that we have insufficient job applicants and ignores our population growth, our youth unemployment and underemployment levels, and displaces more further Australians from housing.
 Jamie Berry, (2003-09-12)."Student believed Monash killings were 'his destiny,'" The Age.
 Jamie Berry, "Student 'hosed' room with bullets, court told,"The Age, September 13, 2003.
Post-script - G, motivated by her estranged mother, wants to "sue" the people her helped her for "emotional abuse" (trying to get rent payments from her) and "kidnapping" (after admitting being suicidal to the local GP and taking her to hospital) in order to acquire funds to pay her fees and stay in Australia!