In recent days the Twitterverse of the Premier Mark McGowan and his Education Minister Sue Ellery have been extolling the advantages that we stand to gain from the sales pitch that they have undertaken in China to attract foreign students to Western Australia. I applaud the efforts of the Minister and the Premier in recognising a market that in various times in the past has brought in Export revenue to Australia of around $15 billion a year at its peak. It made the industry an extremely lucrative and economically significant one at that time.
At those times, the estimate of international students in Australia has comprised around 108,000 Indian students and a similar number of Chinese students. However, those days are long gone. Indian student numbers have dried up as it became extremely evident that Australia had established little by way of prudential controls on this industry. The industry became one of short term gain and unscrupulous and poorly resourced agencies began competing for the student fee dollars.
Over the years when the industry was at its zenith, I was regularly dealing with the various government agencies in this space. WA Police was one such agency. They would contact me often to attend the residences of perpetrators of illegal acts, crimes etc. I would then enter the premises and have discussions around appropriate behaviour and other issues with these perpetrators. It was clearly apparent to me at that time that the expectation from these people was that they would be treated on exactly the same basis that they would have been in their home towns. Often this expectation was of a Police service that was susceptible to bribery and corruption of the nature that they were accustomed to.
What also became readily apparent was that the educational institutions that had mushroomed as a result of the demand from International students were very quick to take the fees that were being paid but were not willing to provide for the welfare of the students. It must be remembered that these students were often young, away from family support structures and in an alien culture. The consequences on the students of this combination of factors and the lack of support by institutions often led to inappropriate and sometimes dangerous behaviour. Over time I also assisted in the transport to their home states of deceased bodies of young people who had committed suicide here in Western Australia.
Whilst I applaud the signing up of International students in China and other places, I urge the Premier to ensure that support services are in place here to attend to the psychological and mental health needs of these young and often vulnerable people. The effects of not doing so are long term, both for the young people and for the impact on the social cohesion in WA.
For a very long time I have called for the establishment of a mentorship scheme for new migrants but especially so for students. By establishing myself as a mentor for a number of students, I would willingly spend time with them addressing their concerns about particular issues. I often think that had this service been available in 2010 to Jagdeep Singh, it is highly probable that he would not have taken a knife and killed his two former housemates, Navdeep and Kawaldeep Singh in Crimea Road in Morley over an argument about the return of some bond money amounting to around $330..
Premier and Minister, I don’t wish to be responsible for assisting in the transport of deceased bodies any longer. These deaths are preventable. There are some substantial support structures that need to be established. Transcultural mental health programs are currently not funded well by this state. And even if they were funded often they would preclude being accessed by these temporary residents. That is potentially a starting point in ensuring that the study experience that these International students receive here is in fact a fulfilling one. The longer term benefit of such an experience is far more beneficial to this state than the mere student fees that they would pay so let us invest in infrastructure and support services before we go searching for the export dollars. Failure to do so will not only mean long term pain and cost but potentially could save the lives of some of these students.