International students taken for a ride

Ezreena Yahya reports on the latest in international students’ rights

International students have criticised the latest change to their transport discounts. The NSW Government announced last October that international students would be eligible for transport concessions. This news was welcomed as a commonsense way to address equity and welfare issues, but its implementation has been perceived as disappointing.

Under the new system, international students still enjoy considerably differentiated treatment from their domestic counterparts. The discounts on full fares only go up to 35%, as opposed to the half fare concession domestic students enjoy. Further, these discounts do not apply to regular bus or City Rail tickets but only to the 90-day and annual MyMulti2 and MyMulti3 passes. Finally, in order to take advantage of the discount, international students have to cut through considerable red tape. Tickets may only be ordered online by the education provider with an official invitation letter – individual applications are not accepted.

International students who support themselves may still find funding transport difficult to manage under the new system. For an international student, a MyBus1 Travel 10 costs $17.60, even though these students, like domestic students, are likely to be balancing low-paying jobs with study. Essentially, because the new discounts only apply to certain passes, a five-minute bus ride from Railway Square to the University’s City Rd bus stop will still cost $2 for a student who is not an Australian citizen or a permanent resident.

Danial Johari, Social and Welfare Director of the New South Wales chapter of the Malaysian Students’ Council of Australia said that the initial announcement was misleading. “The conditions and how it was going to be carried out was unclear,” he told Honi. “All we want is to receive the same treatment as local students. I think it is fair given that we pay much more in terms of tuition fees. I feel that only a small minority of international students would benefit from this policy.”

This system is surprising in light of the fact that introducing transport concessions was listed as one of the immediate priorities in a 98-page Industry Action Plan prepared by the NSW Government’s International Education and Research Task Force published last September.

Education is Australia’s second largest services export sector and here in New South Wales, it is a $6 billion industry. The state has the highest number of international student enrolments in the country, about 75 000 by the end of 2011. Yet it is one of only two remaining states (the other being Victoria) which have not approved concessions for foreign students.

This development indicates that significant inequalities between domestic and international students still exist.