AUSTRALIAN vice-chancellors fear an anti-Asian immigration party's success in a Queensland state election could damage their overseas student recruiting drives and are trying to limit the damage.
The One Nation Party, set up last year by Brisbane independent MP Pauline Hanson, startled pundits by winning 11 seats. The party, which attracted almost 25 per cent of the vote in Queensland, is deeply opposed to Asian immigration and has attacked special grants to Aborigines.
University leaders in Queensland became alarmed at reports that some Asian students were considering transferring to other states and that One Nation's electoral victory would alienate potential students in Asia.
Lachlan Chipman, vice-chancellor of Central Queensland University, said the high One Nation vote suggested educators had not done a good job in persuading people of the virtues of internationalisation.
"If the election result is interpreted in Asia as a sign that Asians are not welcome in Queensland or in Australia at large, it could do huge damage to education, tourism and investment," Professor Chipman said.
Prime minister John Howard came under attack for refusing to demand that the conservative parties in Queensland put One Nation last in the ballot material used to advise electors how to vote.
For more than a year Mr Howard also refused to reject or condemn Mrs Hanson's arguments about Asian immigration and support for Aborigines until pressure from his own party forced him to comment. He has been accused of secretly endorsing many of One Nation's arguments.
John Niland, president of the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee, deplored Mrs Hanson's race policies in a speech at the National University of Singapore.
He said Australia's vice-chancellors wanted to reassure the Asian academic community and potential Asian students that the highly publicised elements of One Nation's race policies, "while distressing and embarrassing", were not representative.
Its electoral success was mostly attributable to factors other than race, in particular the despair and anger caused by economic dislocation in areas of Australia where the economic effects of globalisation had hit hardest.
"The point about Pauline Hanson's 'race streak' is that it rides the back of a much bigger wave, which includes taxes, unemployment and tariffs, and city versus rural interests and family values," Professor Niland said.
"As well as being distressed by the obvious hurt caused to our Asian students by Pauline Hanson's pronouncements, I also had cause to feel similar distress for Indonesian students of Chinese descent when I heard of the severe harassment their families were forced to endure during the recent riots in Jakarta," he added.
Professor Niland proposed strong strategic alliances between Australian and other universities in Asia to combat "the might of Oxbridge" and leading universities in North America in the global competition for students and outstanding academics.
The inter-university alliance would include mutual recognition of each member's degree programmes, fully-integrated programmes possibly leading to joint-badged degrees, staff exchanges, open access to courseware, and standardisation of assessment across an array of disciplines.
A basis for the alliances could be Universitas 21 - the consortium of 18 universities in Britain, Australia, the United States, Canada and Asia, set up last year.