STRAWS IN THE WIND: by Max TeichmannNews Weekly
Higher education / China Syndrome
, November 15, 2003
While dwindling numbers of lawyers and civil rights lobbyists fill screens and newspapers with their concerns for the survivors of the people-smuggling era, the real
migration program and the original
refugee intake enterprises roll on with very little comment or analysis.
The only public figure to be still spelling out the details is Bob Carr, who appears damage proof. But newish developments in migration have come up, which outline the shape of things to come. They are a far cry from the regressive post-Tampa
squabbling and face-saving.
International student numbers in Australia could increase seven-fold by 2025, meaning up to 850,000 according to The Australian's
Education Supplement. This "could provide an export windfall of up to $56 billion a year".
At this point we have reached the rubber plantation, with the "coulds" and "up tos" much beloved by the tourist industry and supposedly lucrative happenings like the Grand Prix, which usually end up costing the taxpayer. But the foreign fee-paying numbers should
be taken seriously.
"In the most optimistic scenario, international students will far outnumber domestic students," exalts education writer, Jim Buckell. But Australia's 38 universities will have to accept thousands more international students and there would need to be an explosion in the number of private providers.
In fact, our universities are already leaning heavily on foreign student intakes as we know. Melbourne University's fee-paying component is already 37 per cent and Monash 45 per cent I am told. But they would like more.
The agreements for student and program exchanges, increased student mobility and "recognition of some qualifications between the countries" - ominous phrase this one - have been co-signed by Education Minister Brendan Nelson and the representatives of China and, now, India.
India is seen as overtaking China as the leading source of students within 20 years.
This last is interesting, for Ian McFarlane of the Reserve Bank tipped India as taking over from China as the economic and trade investment powerhouse - at least in the Indo-Pacific region - within the next 20 years. Few have followed up this judgment, for reasons I'll mention later.
Higher Education marketing body IDP Education Australia's chief executive Lindy Hyam said that the "spin-offs for business, industry and political relationships and the source countries in Asia [the top ten source countries are Asian] were vast once the students returned home".
provided is how many will wish to return home; how many will in fact return home; and how many will, once residents, set about bringing out family members?
This is in fact an immigration program, overlapping and possibly swamping our core immigration program. (Is the present cavorting around emptying reception centres and odd Pacific Islands for real, or just a blind? Like talking about the Balibo Five and not East Timor's lost 200,000?) But certainly these agreements and processes going on over the past decade or so are momentous, and concern the future - not the past.
Some points which come to mind:
1) Critics of the introduction of large numbers of fee-paying students per se (i.e. Australian as well as overseas) maintain that students who can't buy places - and rising fee-paying demand will push up fees and charges - are disadvantaged. Poor students miss out on places. Like loyal football followers who miss out on grand final tickets when outsiders are put ahead in the queue.
2) Many Australian students feel that fee-paying outsiders are cosseted - passed more easily, marked more easily, and, of course, admitted more easily because they are regarded purely as investments, good for advertising. Such perceptions can help to create and maintain a distance between local and foreign students which, added to inevitable cultural and religious differences, could defeat hopes expressed that foreign students going home could be ambassadors for Australia.
The American and European experiences of international terrorism are sobering. However, I suspect we won't have that problem, at least not at the level of vehement dislike - which is why I expect many of our visitors would want to stay, thereby spreading the word.
3) There are grounds for believing there are many private providers operating from Australia, often with overseas campuses (e.g. China), with the graduates then coming to Australia to finish their studies, who indicate to clients that at the end they can more or less count on a residence permit if desired. If this be false, then it is deception. If true, it should be public knowledge for us all to consider.
4) Brendan Nelson's people can either opt for pouring more students into existing universities, many either overcrowded or multi-campused, or consider new university towns in regional Australia such as those operating already in Queensland. These can be excellent ventures - developing the area in one of the more benificent ways, and helping to balance the growing number of retirees.
Private providers should be encouraged, even pressured, to fit into such regional strategies, rather than hog central districts of big cities, parasitic on already large educational complexes.
5) The dangers of even further dilution of academic standards overall are obvious - but it is said that research shows Australia (as with all countries) is "vulnerable to shifts of quality in our university courses". We shall see.
6) In many ways, the emergence of India as a major future player has obvious advantages: the same language, democratic political values and experience, and, perhaps to the surprise of some, a degree of respect and some fondness for the good parts of the old imperial culture, superior to that of many contemporary Australians. And they are not anti-Western, not expansionist and surer of their place in the world than, say, China.
As Mr McFarlane indicated, they may be a safer bet, with fewer strings attached and fewer diktats from on high, of the kind the world has to endure from, say, China or militant Islam.
But Western businessmen want quick results - see cargo cult everywhere (some saw it in Russia), and almost prefer to deal with supposedly monolithic and super-competent dictators or friends of Party bosses. They burn their fingers again and again. A possible major regime change in Russia is an ongoing example.
7) The strategy of bringing educated and relatively socialised people here, rather than masses of people who are neither, seems an excellent change from recent migration strategies: for this is
about migration even more than education. The usual $64 question remains: "Will they take jobs from Australians or create more growth, more jobs." I would think in these cases, the latter. Will they, no matter where we educate them, flock to a few major cities to settle? This depends on our ability to create living regional sub-systems. We haven't really even tried, up to date.
8) Builders and supermarket giants, obviously pushing for these new educational strategies, will want everything to revolve around a few big cities: suits them. They should be resisted. Let them follow the customers - the customers shouldn't have to follow them.
9) I hope I haven't made my preference for India too obvious - but there is
the matter of cricket.China Syndrome
The visit of China's president to Australia, which must be counted as a great success from Beijing's point of view, has triggered yet another discussion of the respective merits of realism and idealism in international politics. China's leader made things crystal clear.
As Paul Kelly wrote (Australian
, October 29) China will not tolerate any drift towards Taiwan's independence. "Yet this risk, arises from the nature of Taiwan's democracy and the possibility that it will provoke the independence option."
This would produce a military response from Beijing. And, of course, if China attacks, America would most likely respond in Taiwan's defence.
Hu, in his speech, said that the greatest threat to peace came from the Taiwan independence forces. Kelly agrees. And yet it might seem that the threat must be
China, for she is making all the threats. No one has suggested that Taiwan is likely to invade or attack China. Strange.
Presumably, the greatest threat to peace in the Indonesian archipelago was East Timor, who insisted on voting for independence. And Australia encouraged her - another threat nation.
And the greatest threats to peace in Europe in the 1930s were Czechoslovakia and Poland, who insisted they were independent sovereign states, and democracies - unlike Nazi Germany, and they wouldn't cede any of their land or citizens to Berlin.
France and Britain persuaded - i.e. forced - the Czechs to do both. The Western public, they said, wouldn't support war against Germany, no matter what, so the Czechs should stop causing a crisis and surrender. The Czechs did - so were eaten in two bites, not one. But Paris was right - their public didn't support the war against Germany, no matter what. Even their own invasion.
We have such people here now and, of course, throughout the West.
Kelly correctly points to the state of mind of the American and Australian publics in the run-ups to the never-ending elections which is all we know nowadays about democracy. Taiwan would be a truly unpopular war in Australia, he says, and most likely in America.
I wouldn't be sure about that, but the old China lobby is alive and well, composed, as it always was, of permanent anti-Western, anti-democratic "radicals", and the businessmen and entrepreneurs salivating over the China market. They date back at least to Carl Crowe's pre-war book 400 Million Customers
; although as a type they could be seen at the time of Christopher Columbus, El Dorado and the profits to be made from slavery and piracy.
Times change but, despite what Marx said, human types don't, very much.