International students have long campaigned for public transport fare concessions. I have argued before that this is based on a mistaken understanding of why Australian students receive cheaper fares, but I will concede that there is potentially an interesting debate here about the status of long-term but legally temporary residents in Australia. A massive increase in their numbers – principally international students and section 457 visa holders – during the Howard years creates issues we’ve never really had to think about before (I might post on this some other time).
While I can sympathise but not agree with the international students, I have no sympathy at all with the arguments made by my colleagues in the higher education sector.
An op-ed by La Trobe academic Anthony Jarvis in The Age uses the ‘financial burden’ of overseas study as a rationale for extending transport concessions. But surely the very high fees charged by universities are a far more significant burden. For example a La Trobe business course would cost an international student more than $18,000 a year, an 80% mark-up on what La Trobe gets for a domestic student.
Effectively, Jarvis thinks taxpayers should help La Trobe make profits from international education by attracting more customers or increasing their capacity to pay higher fees.
An embarrassing feature of university advocacy on this subject is the persistent use of easily disproved claims. Jarvis repeats the assertion I have heard many times over the years that the lack of public transport concessions endangers the industry in Victoria, which along with NSW does not offer concessions to international students. “The [Victorian] state government is putting at risk an industry worth about $17 billion to Australia”, according to Jarvis. What has actually happened is in the figure below.
Contrary to the claims of universities, Victoria has not only participated in a general boom in international enrolments, it has gained market share from other states. In 2002, 27.8% of international students in Australia came to Victoria. By 2009 this had increased to 30.6%.
These numbers suggest that while international students would like discount fares, their decisions are not ultimately based on this consideration. They come to Victoria rather than go to states with cheaper public transport.
To its credit, the Victorian government has looked at the facts and principles involved here, and stood firm against the campaign for international student public transport concessions.