Wednesday, April 18, 2007


It’s not smooth sailing for Indian students in Australia, as was highlighted by a recent protest against a university, writes Inderdeep Thapar


* Pick only those courses where your interest lies.

* Be selective about the universities. There are many which are being de-recognised because of their inability to maintain educational standards.

* Arrange for pick-up and initial stay beforehand.

* Be wary of unscrupulous elements who resort to different ways to fleece students.

* Be prepared for accommodation hassles in the beginning.

* There will be no jobs for the initial three months. Plan out your finances.

* Take guidance from senior students before entering into deals with banks, mobile companies, electricity and telecom companies.

The recent agitation by students of Central Queensland University (CQU) in Melbourne threw the spotlight on several issues facing the Indian youth who head Down Under for higher studies.

The three-day fast by 122 students of CQU was finally called off after the university agreed to give provisional enrolment to those who had been protesting against the mercenary attitude of the authorities. All the students had been told they had got supplementaries and would have to redo the semester. These students had just taken the exam of the last semester of the two-year course and are due to file in their applications for residency.

The students alleged that the university had failed them without giving the grace marks that were promised to them in the university documents. “Students with 49.5 or 49.3 marks have also been failed whereas the pass marks are 50,”says Kezia, their representative. This is the third year in a row that such a situation has arisen in this university. However, this time the students had roped in the unions of other universities as well as the Education Department. It was thus after much pressure that the university conceded to give them provisional enrolment. The main issue of ‘grace marks’, however, remained unresolved.

Residency status

Melbourne is a city of Australia that thrives on billions of dollars that flow into its coffers courtesy the overseas students, a significant proportion of them Indians. Though more and more Indian students are headed Down Under with dreams in their eyes, the ground reality is often not as rosy as they imagine it to be. Apart from the recent agitation, there are numerous other pressing concerns that the aspiring students need to keep in mind.

More than 20,000 students have flocked to Victoria in the hope of eventually getting Permanent Residency Status that the Australian Government promises after two years of study on its soil. This is largely dependent on their taking up those subjects that give the required number of points. This entire information of subjects and the corresponding points is available on the MODL list that can be accessed easily on the Internet. There is, however, a catch in this.

The list changes after every two years.

In a nutshell, it means that if the course a student is pursuing for the last two years is plucked out of the list, he or she cannot get the Residency and has to leave the country. Or, as happens in most cases, the student then enrols in another course (hands out more dollars) and begins the process all over again. It is a common sight--- nervous, highly-strung students scanning the MODL to know their respective status taken up horticulture are facing this predicament.

For those who want to earn while they learn, here’s a checklist of some odd jobs available:

Car wash 

 $8 per 


Hungry Jacks 


 per hour

Seven Eleven 


 per hour



 per hour

Call centre 

 $12 -14 

 per hour



 per hour

(but the person should have a car and a mobile)

This is one part of the story, now let’s zoom in on the second one. What happens when the student lands on this dreamland? After shelling out thousands of dollars to the mercenary agent who is least bothered about what might befall the student after he lands, the student’s ordeal begins at the airport itself. Some of the universities (not all) offer to pick up the students from the airport and ensure two weeks’ accommodation, which is part of the fee structure. But there have been instances of university representatives not turning up at the airport to collect the student.

Board and lodging

The most recent instance is of a girl who was left stranded at the airport in the middle of the night. Eventually, a few other students came to her aid with whom she put up for the night. That the students happened to be decent boys is simply her good fortune. It goes without saying that the two- week accommodation charges are astronomical and only students who can afford it opt for it. The rest rely on their previous contacts to give them a shelter in the beginning and then move on to find alternative accommodation.

Now comes the real crunch---the students are finding it extremely hard to find rooms. The apartments in the “inner city” are unaffordable even though two or three students might share the expense. Earlier, only new entrants faced this problem, now even the earlier batches of foreign students are bearing the brunt.

Take the case of Kiranjeet Kaur, who is pursuing a Bachelor’s in Nursing from Australian Catholic University. For the past year, she has been living with fellow students but now wants to shift out as her brother too has arrived and there are space constraints. Despite having a job, she has been unable to get a place for the last three months. The landlords give no reason, just a flat refusal. “It might have been something to do with me being still a student,” she hazards a guess. The general opinion is that” there are too many of us now”. Students have been seen to be breaking down while talking to their counterparts on trains, since they have been asked to vacate their existing lodging and have nowhere to go. Besides, the rents too have been hiked twice in the past year.

Earn and learn

“There are no jobs,” bemoan the students. Again, they echo, “There are too many of us now.” It is only the fee for one semester that the students come prepared with and a little extra to make them survive the initial week or so. The agents paint a rosy picture of them getting jobs as soon as they arrive, assuring them that they will sail through the two-year period.

But reality is like a slap in the face. Students have been known to be jobless for as long as three months and then also they are an exploited lot.

The readers should not calculate the above money in rupees as the students are spending in dollars. Some courses offer placements but the fact is that most of the students are left to fend for themselves.

Study expenses

Now compare this with the course fee structure. No course is less than $6000 and the sum goes up to $10,000 per semester, there being about four semesters. The board and lodging is an extra expense. The students have been found to be working for more than 50 hours in a week to make their ends meet. One must keep in mind that some of them are married.

Now comes the bitter irony. After getting the residency status also, the new residents will not get jobs in their line easily.

There is also a growing consciousness among the earlier settlers that they are more deserving of the good jobs, as they think of themselves as the original Aussies. A few who have been lucky have to strive extra hard for promotions as again it is the same story.

However, the difficulty in finding jobs may be partly due to wrong choice of course. Most of the students jump at any course offered to them by the agents, whether they have the aptitude or not. For instance, Balwinder, who is now a Permanent Resident, had no interest in Information Technology, the only course that the wily agent offered her. She says she took it up because she had to come here. “But now I do not want to work in this line.” It means she has to study again.

Says Adarshpreet, who is doing Masters in Information Technology, “Students in India feel they should reach Down Under at all costs.” However, this one-month-old arrival from Chandigarh has still to find a job or a permanent accommodation.

— The writer is a freelance journalist based in Melbourne

A lot of students coming to Australia are being ripped off by universities like the CQU. The Indian authorities in Australia should intervene as the future of many students is at stake.

— Akhil Snehi, student

It would be easier if there were an agency to deal with all the overseas Indian students, advise them about various options, apart from the most important issue of accommodation. There was no one to guide me about banking and mobile schemes when I first touched base here.

—Alam Mohan Singh, an IT student at RMIT University.

Those who want to drive taxis to earn while they learn face the initial problem of no one being ready to entrust them with a cab as they are new to the country.

—Rajinder Singh, a Swinburne University student.