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Crocodile Dandi

Violent attacks against Indian students in Australia have made headlines in India over the last few days. It started with the case of Shravan Kumar becoming a prime time issue. Now many more such stories are tumbling out of the closet.

Baljinder Singh was stabbed last week while Rajesh Kumar suffered 30 per cent burns after a petrol bomb was hurled at him – in his home – in Sydney.

The issue has flared up now but back in March, the Economic Times had reported that “the growing number of attacks on Indian students in Australia has become a big cause for concern at the Indian High Commission in Canberra”. A senior diplomat at the High Commission had said at the time that in the last six months, there have been 500 cases of assault on Indian students, registered by the police authorities across Australia.

FIVE HUNDRED attacks and it did not make a ripple in India. And students too sat silent, I think because of two reasons:
a) Once you’ve invested in an education in Australia, you want to complete it – no matter what.
b) You know your own government will do nothing for you apart from lip service. So why make a fuss?

As a panelist observed on the Times Now channel, “If a government does not care for the safety of its citizens abroad, why should the host nation?” Well, in this case, because of economic interests.

Australia – the student destination
Indian students are cash cows for Australian universities- they’ve been heading Down Under in ever larger numbers over the last few years. Why? Because Australia is perceived as being cheaper than the US and friendlier than the UK. It’s also relatively easy to get admission.

While Australia does attract some high achievers the general profile is the kid with average marks and above average bank balance. Business families, kids of corporate executives, well-to-do farmers. And the Oz-exodus is fuelled by a concerted marketing effort – in the media and at the grassroots level.

Canadian newspaper TheStar.com reports: Joyta Gupta, principal of K.R. Mangalam World School, a private school in central New Delhi says she and some of her teachers and students have been flown by the Australian government to cities such as Brisbane and Sydney to take part in seminars, a move Gupta said has made students more inclined to go to Australia to pursue diplomas and degrees.

One fourth of the graduates from the school go abroad to study every year. Then there are students from smaller towns who would rather go phoren than settle for a B or C grade college in an metro town. And increasingly there are middle class Indians heading for foreign shores, with the help of loans.

Incidentally, hospitality, management and commerce courses are the most popular options.

So all in all, 95,000 Indians joined Australian universities in in 2008, making us the second largest foreign student group in the country after China. In fact, the education sector generated $15.5 billion in 2008 and has become Australia’s “third largest export industry” after coal and iron ore.

The Australian government was planning a $3.5-million campaign to attract more Indian students. But they’ll need to use those funds more constructively now! Probably to educate their own citizens on the benefits of hosting foreign students. Because the fees we pay subsidise the education of Australian citizens.

coming soon: Why is there trouble in Australia to begin with? Watch this space for my view on that.

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