‘International education is Australia’s third biggest export earner, second only to the sale of natural resources of iron ore, coal and natural gas. It is worth $16 billion per year to the country’ (Sydney Morning Herald – The Threats of Exploiting Foreign Student). Students are sold the image of Australia as a secure nation, where multiculturalism and cultural competency are central. However, the trend of commodifying and valuing international students on the basis of how deep their pockets are proposes the question; within a global age and workforce, has the internationalisation of education within Australia succeeded in promoting cultural competency?
Cultural competency is a multifaceted concept, requiring cultural negotiation, the understanding of divergent points of view, coping with ambiguity and uncertainty and being conscious of identity history (Marginson (2012)). Without purchasing a ticket, one is able to engage in worldly experiences by seeking an international insight, perspectives and experiences.This can inform and expand the understanding of individuals and society. To our detriment, ‘Australians are often too parochial, trapped within an Australian-centred view of a diverse and complex world’ (Marginson (2012)). Effectively, the cultural contributions of global students have been overlooked through social and systematic isolation.
This ethnocentrism and disparity can be attributed to the “them”, “us” rhetoric employed within the media, educational institutions and by governments when discussing international students.
Marginson concludes ‘most international students want closer interactions with local students, and are prepared to take risks to achieve this…most local students are not interested.’ Personally, I value myself as being a culturally astute, friendly and inquisitive student. However, within my two years at the University of Wollongong, where over one-third of those enrolled are international students (UOW Facts and Figures 2015), I have had zero interactions with international students. Perhaps the nature of a law degree is not accommodating to said groups. Irrespective, I question;
how many other domestic students show indifference to engaging with others to promote cultural competency?
Genuine peer interactions are imperative when adjusting to being part of a culture where individuals are the social minority and may encounter difficulties associated with being different (Burke (1994)). Becoming accustomed to a foreign environment, different teaching models, grasping language, developing connections whilst being self sufficient, are all examples of cultural adjustment or ‘culture shock’ which creates emotional stress and anxiety for international students (Forbes-Mewett and Nyland (2008)). Perhaps knowingly signing up for a temporal friendship is not appealing to local students. Global students may equally encounter language barriers, lack confidence, face financial difficulties or be apprehensive about intercultural engagement. As international education is a fairly recent phenomenon, future generations may realise that the current disengagement is a lost opportunity and become more liberal with cross cultural engagement.
Stereotyping and media hype regarding high student numbers can be attributed to this isolation. Although global students fund a large portion of institutions and are not entitled to domestic benefits such as “student” travel concessions, many perceive students (particularly those of Asian heritage) as wealthy, exploiting the housing, education and job market of Australia. These biases were furthered by reports of international students cheating by buying assessments and notes, before wilfully blind universities (‘Degrees of Deception’).
It is imperative that domestic students recognise that only a minority of international students are engaging in cheating and plagiarism practices. Public discourse must begin to address exploitations and vulnerabilities of these students within the workforce, housing market, social sphere and ensure appropriate protections are in place for the mental health and wellbeing of students.
(Images presented are photographs of current international student/international experience advertisements within building 19 of the University of Wollongong)