Importance of Intercultural Education for International Students in Australia.
International students represent a large economic and international relations investment for Australia. Australian universities are increasingly relying upon overseas students for their revenue, but these institutions are not adequately addressing the special learning, linguistic, cultural and religious needs of these students. Despite their Australian education, international students experience various difficulties in finding work in their field of study after they graduate. Poor English-language, communication and problem-solving skills are the biggest obstacles to securing ongoing and satisfying jobs. Employer biases regarding international students are equally a problem. Below, I is a summary of a longer research paper republished on my website.
International students contribute $15.9 billion to Australia’s economy through tuition fees and living expenses. International education has increased by 94 percent since 2004. This sector now represents the third-largest export industry for Australia, generating profits that are 50 percent larger than tourism-related travel.
The number of people entering Australia on student visas increased by 108 percent since 2002. Around 56 percent of all international higher education students were studying at the undergraduate level and 44 percent were postgraduates.
While the overall net international student population is at an all-time high, the proportion of international students in universities has dropped by 10 percent since the mid-2000s. This is due to a change of Australia’s immigration program, which is currently granting twice as many vocational training visas and a slightly smaller proportion of tertiary student visas than five years ago.
While most international students go into the tertiary sector, Chinese students do so in larger proportions (64%), while Indian students are nowadays more likely to go into vocational training (55%). Thai international students tend to undertake English-language courses (77%), while a significant minority of Malaysian students (14%) and Indonesians (12.5%) come to Australia to do postgraduate research.
Historically, migrants with university qualifications were more likely to qualify for permanent residency under the skilled migration program. Yet since Australia changed its immigration policies, international students in vocational courses are not necessarily gaining permanent residency.
My analysis shows that the majority of these students are going into low-status vocational training courses that do not lead to permanent employment. International students in Australia are increasingly unable to find work that is meaningful, and so they are engaged in precarious, underpaid and menial jobs that do not suit their Australian qualifications.
Engineering students, IT specialists, accountants, business majors, technicians and trades people who come from non-English-speaking majority countries are especially likely to have trouble finding work in their profession. Indian students and to a lesser extent Chinese students with accounting degrees have the greatest trouble finding work.
Part of the issue is that Australian employers do not see international graduates as viable candidates, even when they have been educated in Australia. To some extent, surveys show that the English qualifications of a portion of international students is inadequate. This is no wonder, when international students come here to do a vocational course hoping to later transfer into university, but then find they are unable to do so. They start off attending cooking, hairdressing and accounting courses, and they get stuck. Taking vocational training in an expensive but poorly ranked course is unlikely to improve these students’ English skills. But not all international students lack English proficiency. The problem is more systemic.
Various studies show that international students are having trouble being accepted in Australia. They come here thinking they will be able to mingle with Australian students and learn more about Australian culture. They report feeling disappointed that Australian students do not make them feel welcome. This is especially the case amongst students who don’t have a strong command of English.
International students also report feeling as if they received poor career guidance. They end up with unrealistic expectations of what their job prospects will be and what is expected of them in an Australian workplace.
The Australian Human Rights Commission has also identified that international students face racist harassment and abuse that is not adequately recorded by police. The Commission also reports that international students do not have ready access to reliable information about the support available to them regarding their rights in Australia.
To compound the problems that international students face, research suggests that employers are guided by racist stereotypes that perceive international students as having poor cultural skills.
International students contribute more than financial revenue to the Australian economy They also represent an invaluable network of intercultural ambassadors with the potential to strengthen Australia’s multicultural learning and international relations. Education providers would stand to gain a great deal from the overseas links, knowledge and resources that international students bring into Australia.
In my longer article, I argue that a stronger focus on the socialisation of international students is likely to increase their educational and career satisfaction.
Read this study in more detail and see the references on my website.
This article was first published in April 2012 by Intercultural Education.