NDAs. Marches. Speeches. Chants. “Stop the cuts.” “Hands Off Our Education.”
Australian students are angry and their demands are clear: “No government funding cuts. No fee deregulation. No interest on HECS debts. No corporate universities.”
And yet, there is one unanswered and even unasked question: “What do WE want?”
Who are WE? We are the more than 250,000 international students completing higher education degrees and courses in Australia. As a group, we are larger than the entire population of Hobart, and almost the same size as Wollongong.
As Simon Marginson said in a recent SMH article, we are the population in the shadows, expected to stay on the fringes of society, to pay up on time, to be seen and not heard. However, it seems that the wall of this lamentable tradition has been cracked through the campaign against education cuts. The question of whether or not international students activists will grab this opportunity and smash the wall completely, however, is still to be asked and discussed.
We are clearly aware and deeply concerned by the effects of education funding cuts, fee deregulation, student support cuts, and staff cuts on our lives as international students as well as on domestic students. We cannot and should not remain silent in this situation.
The main student body campaigning against the cuts, the Education Action Group, provides a natural way for us to get involved in blooming education activism in Australia. We can add to this struggle by sharing our diverse political experiences gained though activism in our home countries. More importantly, this is a unique opportunity to draw public attention to numerous problems and difficulties international students face in Australian society and to struggle against budget and education cuts united with the entire student body while fighting for our own specific demands and rights.
We demand a well-recognised and well-defined legal identity in this country.
We demand full public transport concessions.
We demand an end to exploitation of international students in Australian job market.
We demand better healthcare, housing, financial and psychological support.
We want our basic human rights back. Australia sucks up 16 billion dollars per year from us, so it is time to pay an utterly insignificant amount of it back to support people who make the rich of this country richer.
We are fully aware that rights are fought for and not granted. A government that cuts welfare and education of its own poor students and working class will not fulfil any of our demands unless we push for their fulfilment from below. So maybe it is time to join local students in their struggle and to ask them to join us in ours because at the end the fight is one and the enemy is the same.