Protection demanded for international students

Murder of Indian student in Melbourne prompts call for cross-border agency to improve security. John Morgan reports

January 11, 2010

Governments must unite to tackle the problem of international student security as a matter of “global public good”, a world higher education conference has heard.

Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Melbourne, discussed the need to protect international students in a speech to the World Universities Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Worries about the safety of cross-border students go beyond higher education and the global knowledge economy, he said, to touch “the future world society and civil culture”.

Professor Marginson referred to the murder in Melbourne of Nitin Garg, a 21-year-old Central Queensland University graduate who was one of the victims in a series of attacks on Indian students in Australia.

In a speech entitled “International student security: globalisation, state, university”, Professor Marginson accused the Australian Government of being “in denial” by arguing that racism is not a factor in the attacks and failing to give students more protection.

“Market research shows that national reputation is the chief factor in international student choice, bigger than educational quality,” Professor Marginson said. “So the Australian Government spins the national reputation, and waits for Nitin Garg to be forgotten.

“This is not working. The problem of student security will not go away and will continue to affect family choices in the education market.”

He added: “Overall, I suspect the position of non-white international students is better in Melbourne than it is in most parts of the USA and the UK, where racism is broader and deeper, though the UK Government is smarter in its handling of student safety and crime.”

Professor Marginson, who teaches at Melbourne’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education and is a member of Times Higher Education’s editorial board, is one of four co-authors of International Student Security, to be published by Cambridge University Press this year.

He told the forum that international students are at risk “because they are strangers, because legal protections and policy obligations are sparse, and because there is no political mechanism for translating concerns about their welfare into action”.

He called for a cross-border agency to support international students on physical safety, financial, work, housing and welfare issues, offering, if needed, “a point of appeal and of resolution against states”. This would set a precedent for the treatment of other “mobile populations”, he added.

“We want all our lives to have meaning,” Professor Marginson said. “If Nitin Garg’s death helps to focus world attention on the problems of mobile persons, the gaps in their human security and the need for a workable global regime of human security, his life has achieved a greater meaning. Give him that honour. That way, he still lives.”

The World Universities Forum closed on 11 January. For more coverage of the forum, see Times Higher Education on 21 January.

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