EMOTIONS ran high as student delegates from 25 campuses across Australia gathered at a Melbourne conference last week to find a new national voice for international students.
Emotions ran high as student delegates from 25 university campuses across Australia gathered at a Melbourne conference last week to find a new national voice for international students.
Organised by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA), the international student forum follows the union’s disaffiliation with the National Liaison Committee (NLC) of international students.
Last year, a Chinese businessman called Master Shang and a number of other directors had incorporated a new group, also called the NLC, which began lobbying for international student rights.
The doubling up of names had caused confusion across the international student industry, and left the NUS without a credible voice to represent international students.
The NLC made headlines in May, over allegations of bullying against university staff and intimidatory and belligerent behaviour on-campus .
At the forum, student delegates and staff from the NUS shared similar stories about their “unpleasant experiences” in their dealings with Mr Shang.
Most recently, the NLC made a similar move on the Australian Federation of International Students and the Federation of Indian Students of Australia by incorporating under the same names in New South Wales.
At the forum last Monday, NUS general secretary David Wilkins said there would not have been an issue if the NLC had been able to demonstrate transparency and accountability.
At the end of three days of intense discussions, the 50 international student delegates decided to form a working group to guide the creation of a democratic international student office by 2010, which would be part of the NUS.
Mr Wilkins said the new office would “restore the voice of international students in Australia that was both democratic and representative”.
“As a result of the NLC, and what we learned from that, was there was no democratic representative national voice for international students that was able to make representation to governments, universities and the wider community,” Mr Wilkins said.
“I think in particular when we’ve got two upcoming Federal Government inquiries on issues about international students, we’re really starting to see a need for it.”
There will be around 15 members in the working group, made up of international student officers from universities across Australia.
Mr Wilkins said the student delegates had chosen not to challenge the new NLC at this stage.
CAPA national president Nigel Palmer acknowledged that many international students were unaware, or uninterested, in international student politics.
But he said the NLC saga had ironically helped raise the profile of the numerous representative organisations that were here to serve the international student community.
“I think this meeting is the first for many international students to become aware of the current climate in higher education for international students, and the state of play with the various representative organisations,” Mr Palmer said.
“One of the tremendously positive things that we have already gained from this conference is an understanding that there are a diversity of groups out there representing international students.”
He said the crisis had brought a diverse number of representative bodies together, from undergraduate to postgraduate level.
He believed the new national voice would be stronger and more representative of the international student community, and enable more students “to identify with people who are like them, and who can offer support”.