International students are temporary migrants. Nations have the option of treating them as quasi-residents, or as outsiders. Everywhere they are treated as outsiders. Nowhere do they enjoy comprehensive human rights in local law. ……..human rights should not be confined to local citizens.
…we should understand student security as an issue of comprehensive human rights…
we suggest that a strong contribution governments can make to student security is to provide affordable student housing, for a mix of local and international students, in areas where students study and work. [I have altered the sequence from the original presentation]
I am a ‘human rights’ sceptic. As a classical liberal, I unsurprisingly believe that many of the interests and freedoms that find their way into lists of ‘human rights’ are indeed important. But I don’t believe these interests and freedoms are best advocated or defended by simply asserting that they are ‘rights’.
The theories that justify broad ‘human’ rights are all highly contestable, and it is not clear that they actually add weight to the more specific and ad hoc arguments for particular freedoms or interests. The issue of international student security is a good example of this. What does an abstract and legalistic notion like ‘human rights’ add to the argument that violent attacks on innocent individuals are completely unacceptable and should be stopped?
The idea of ‘human rights’ certainly doesn’t help us decide whether the government should provide ‘affordable’ student housing or not. Why should students get more handouts, when ‘affordable’ housing is an issue (indeed, a bigger issue) for the millions of young Australians who will never enrol in a university? These kinds of conflicting claims – between students, taxpayers, and all other potential beneficiaries of government spending – cannot be settled in an intellectually or morally defensible way by one party simply asserting a ‘human right’.
International students should be, and are, entitled to the core political rights and social freedoms of Australian society. Crimes against them should be investigated and the perpetrators punished. International students are pefectly entitled to express their political views (the main threat here being their home governments, not Australia’s). Because the conflicting interests here would not be given much weight by most Australians, they are de facto human rights (ie, they apply to any person in Australia).
But the more specific welfare rights attached to Australian permanent residence are another matter. These cannot be conceptualised as ‘human rights’, because clearly they are specific to a time and place and not things that could plausibly be expected by all humans simply through their membership of the species. Welfare rights are claims on the income and assets of those already in Australia, and it is not clear on what grounds international students should get to make such a claim. Politically, support for the international student program would quickly dry up if they were perceived as a cost rather than a benefit.
As ‘consumers’ (Marginson’s term) international students do miss out on the rights of being permanent residents. But by being consumers they gain the right to study here in the first place.