International students must be political
Our International Student Reporter on why international students should vote in this week’s student elections
The rhetoric of international students as cash cows or “main contributors to the financial sustainability of Australian higher education sector” has been regurgitated by many politicians and bigwigs in universities’ management teams.
The media also takes a whiff out of the sizeable revenue that international students bring into the country, amounting to billions of dollars of tuition and other fees (quadruple that of domestic students’) and all paid upfront.
The incessant discussion on the economics of international student education is nauseating, as it equates the role of these students to that of neoliberal consumers of a global higher education market. This makes the role of universities no longer that of learning institutions, but as businesses selling a product, attentive of their reputations to their customers.
What is sorely lacking in this discussion is the social, political, and ethical responsibilities that universities must account for when internationalising their educational services.
The ripples of COVID-19 have made a considerable dent in the university’s finances, and all of us are bearing the crux of it. Hundreds of staff positions are being cut and there is now an organisational downscaling that will reduce five faculties into three.
All these changes have real impact on all staff and students’ welfare in the university, and all are due to the plummeting of new international student enrolments.
When will we seriously question the role of international students in our society beyond their commodity value, if not right now?
The proliferation of the rhetorical neoliberal ‘cash cow’ brutally dehumanises us. Our lack of definite status in immigration makes it even harder to define us in humanising terms. We are not quite immigrants, because we are only here for education — or, in other words, as customers. We are invisible in social and political discourses, and this further disenfranchises us and hinders our bargaining power.
International students pay, yes. But what has been becoming increasingly less salient is that international students are also students. We as a collective voice hold political power, and this also affects other students and staff members that form part the education sector in Australia.
The reality is obvious: international students are political and must be political.
It is no time to passively sit back, label ourselves as apolitical, and shake hands with those dodging their socio-political responsibilities to defend our rights as students; not when our voice is on the line.
There must be an awakening in our community to our social and political rights; especially when universities and politicians evade their political responsibilities by seeing us merely as paying customers; especially when businesses evade their social responsibilities by paying us below minimum-wage and discarding us as disposable labour.
So, how can we realise our political potential?
There are a few basic things that you can do as students to become positively and constructively political without destroying your life.
Get woke: Stop seeing your education as separate from domestic students and staff. Your rights empower the rights of all others who have a voice in the education sector, and vice versa. It’s not about what you get out of university, it’s about what all students get out of university.
Educate yourselves: Research how different candidates in this week’s student election understand your political priorities and their vision to uphold and fight for your rights and wellbeing.
Vote: Every vote matters during student elections, including yours. VOTE.