Does full-fare public transport deter international students?

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.

Source: Australian Education International

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.

10 thoughts on “Does full-fare public transport deter international students?

  1. From Jarvis’ op-ed: “The refusal to extend the transport concession to all international students is galling, and with good reason — it actively excludes them from the broader community.” Well but international students also don’t get Medicare, does that make them feel excluded from the broader community aswell?

    If Jarvis is so concerned with the reputation of higher education in Victoria, it would be better to use that $40 Million he talks about to build a decent interchange at Hungtingdale Station for people changing from the train to the bus to Monash!

    It’s all relative anyway – a full fare monthly ticket in Melbourne is still cheaper than a discounted student monthly ticket in other cities which have lots of international students like London. When it comes to public transport costs, Melbourne is very competitive.


  2. Yes, it seems from the data as though the marginal student’s willingness to pay for studying here exceeds what students are required to pay – hence the strong ongoing growth in student numbers. If public transport fares are reduced, universities will presumably just increase their fees by a similar amount.


  3. Here, here Andrew!
    These are ridiculous ideas. Ordinarily they should be thrown in the dust bin on announcement and never heard again, but unfortunately, silly ideas have a habit of late of gaining traction and so to be safe, should be put down immediately.
    For starters, let’s look at the principal of this thing. My mates, Joe the taxpayer (ordinary, middle-class PAY as you go etc) are practically funding everything that moves. We are the ones being burdened. But if we are going subsidise others, at the very least it should be for fellow citizens – not the aliens!
    That’s right, the aliens should pay (at least) their fair share and the full cost of their education. If they don’t like it – see you later. There’s nothing special or mystical about education aliens – it’s just an industry like anything else.
    Next, Rajat is bang on the money. Presumably uni fees will increase by the amount of the transport subsidy – hence this is a value transfer exercise.
    Yes Andrew, very interested in hearing your thoughts about a permenant alien presence. On another note, a worring ‘stick your hand out for welfare’ trend appears to emerging with these alient students (they seem to have picked up western welfare campaigning well). It doesn’t matter if its so-called attacks, uni fees, transport subsidys – these aliens have no shame in sticking their hands out for cash!


  4. Baz, can you stop using the word alien? I can’t help but think of bug-eyed green monsters (which I must admit gives me a chuckle — think the District 9 aliens campaigning for cheap transport..).
    More seriously:”But if we are going subsidise others, at the very least it should be for fellow citizens”.
    What percentage do you think become citizens?
    “My mates, Joe the taxpayer (ordinary, middle-class PAY as you go etc) are practically funding everything that moves. We are the ones being burdened.”
    No you arn’t. Rich people are funding it, as well as company tax. If you don’t like it, my recommendation is to work in places where you don’t pay so much tax (that’s serious — I certainly have and would consider doing it again). It’s amazing how much you’ll save if you keep the same lifestyle. I’ll be able to retire a decade earlier because of it.


  5. The other point here is that granting transport concessions to temporary residents is really a form of foreign aid, in which case it should be targeted properly rather than blindly aiding universities in profit seeking activity.

    It’s extraordinary the way universities are treated as disinterested commentators.


  6. Fair enough Conrad – can you suggest please suggest a humorous alternative. Take your point on residence thing. One day, one day – not too keen on dubai though.


  7. If there is any benefit to subsidised public transport it goes to the universities. So let the Universities charge for it and give it out. I doubt that’s currently possible, but it would be a reasonable compromise, so long as VSU can be repealed.


  8. The Victorian Government could always suggest to the Universities that they could provide this concession, if they can then bill the relevant Universities for the cost of it (based on the number of international students at that University, for example). They could even have individual Universities opt in or out of the system (so if La Trobe is willing to pay for it, then international students of that institution can get a concession card). It could even be extended to other categories of currently-excluded students, like part-time and postgrad.

    On the other hand, your argument in your Age piece that it is as much about “moving income around the life cycle” as it is a subsidy seems undermined if large numbers of international students are indeed staying on as permanent residents / citizens, is it not?


  9. Caf – About 46,000 international students achieved PR in 2008-09. It is a complicating factor, but legally for the period they are students they have no legal right to stay permanently, and the rules can change rapidly (as they did in February) to make it much harder to stay.

    But I think your idea is a good one – if this is so important to unis, they should pay for it.


  10. seriously..this is a joke.. I am aus citizen, pay all my taxes. I am trying to pay a mortgage on my own. Just finished paying off my HECS and have to pay 1700 a year to travel to work on public transport.. Now adays I cant even get a seat on my local train line thanks to the over populated migration schemes and the international student influx.. THEY take my seat.. my FULL paying seat.. and now we want to give them a concession on it?? righto


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