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CISA Conference Day 2: International students in Australia behind UK peers in job search

POST study work visas, accommodation woes and industry regulation formed part of a lively discussion on the second day of the Council of International Students Australia National Conference. Meld news and multimedia editors Diane Leow and Julian Tay bring you the day’s highlights from Adelaide.

Photo: Julian Tay

Photo: Julian Tay

Want to stay on in Australia to work after graduation? Industry leaders recommend students “start from day one”.

Employment prospects were among the key topics addressed on the second day of the CISA National Conference, especially pertinent in light of the Post Study Work Stream visa introduced last year, entitling students to a two-year work permit upon graduation.

Student delegates at the conference raised issues of employability saying work visas do not automatically provide work opportunities, as many companies will only hire graduates with Australian citizenship or permanent residency.

Pakistani student Marina Khan said it was also often difficult for international students to obtain part-time work that complemented their university course.

“It’s almost impossible for international students to get a part-time office job. if anything, the best you can do is retail,” she said.

Related story: The PR problem – Graduate job prospects for international students in Australia

While industry leaders acknowledged the difficulties international student graduates faced, they also offered an alternative point of view and what students could do to become more competitive in the job market.

The panel comprised representatives from the Australian Council for Private and Education (ACPET), Universities Australia, the Australian Universities International Directors’ Forum (AUIDF), ISANA International Education Association, TAFE Directors Australia, International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) and English Australia.

Director of international engagement and development from TAFE Directors Australia Peter Holden said parents often wrongly assumed an overseas degree would automatically make their children more employable.

Industry leaders agreed students would do well to regard volunteering, part-time work and other hobbies in addition to their studies as part of a whole package in boosting employability.

They also advised students not to wait till the end of their studies to think about their employment prospects.

IEAA national executive director Phil Honeywood said international students in Australia could learn from their UK counterparts and pointed to research which found students in the UK began engaging with their career advisors from the first year of university.

The student panel. From left: Ms Carys Chan Xi Wen, Mr Ishaku Lemu Haruna, Ms Stephanie Yong Ern Chee, and CISA National President Thomson Ch'ng. Photo: Julian Tay

The student panel. From left: Ms Carys Chan Xi Wen, Mr Ishaku Lemu Haruna, Ms Stephanie Yong Ern Chee, and CISA National President Thomson Ch’ng. Photo: Julian Tay

A student panel, made up of representatives from Queensland of University Technology, Swinburne University and Australian National University emphasised the importance of volunteering, and how it often led to part-time job opportunities.

ANU student Carys Chan from Singapore shared how she found work as an admissions officer in the university after volunteering as a student guide.

Other issues 

Accommodation  

Industry stakeholders have begun to look into the actual cost of studying in Australia, according to AUIDF chair Jo Asquith.

In addition to a lack of reasonably priced accommodation, ISANA national president Mary-Ann Seow said “substandard, unsafe accommodation is another concern.”

UWS student Marina Khan, who is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Urban Planning shared her horrific “homestay” experience. Before arriving in Australia, Ms Khan was forced to turn to  Gumtree to look for places to stay as there was a waitlist for on-campus accommodation. The advertised homestay turned out to be a rat-infested garage. Her homestay family also did not provide her with any food.

ACPET ACT executive officer Alan Keith said these issues surrounding accommodation were not new. He also noted that students usually preferred to live in the city, which sometimes contributed to the problem.

“You make the decision to live in the city, some of the consequences is having to pay higher rents,” Mr Keith said.

Risk and regulation of the international education sector

Lastly, the panel was unanimous in their view that enforcing regulation within the international education sector was important.

English Australia executive director Sue Blundell said red tape could be a barrier, especially in the context of student complaints.

“Reducing red tape would be good for all of us, but we need to be careful how we do that,” she said.

IEAA national executive director Phil Honeywood has told Meld the Government was “forming a coordinating council of all ministers, peak bodies, state governments and business groups involved in international education in Australia to ensure topics that affect students don’t fall through the cracks.”

Students respond to panels

Student delegates said they would like to see panel discussions translate into practical and positive outcomes for the international student community in the near future.

“We all know the issues. We all have been talking about it. Is something actually going to be done? I just feel like they really need to put actions into words,” Ms Khan said.

UQ Bachelor of Communications student Dion Lee felt the industry panel was “beneficial” as it provided some insight into the international education system, but said a different format that invited more participation from student leaders may have been more effective.

“An indirect debate could see more ideas being generated. In that way, we can challenge the status quo,” he said.

“I would also encourage the use of social media where you could have participants post questions before and after the panel,” Mr Lee added.

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Meld Magazine was incorporated as an independent not-for-profit media outlet in September 2008 to reach out to international students in Melbourne, and provide students the opportunity to gain real work experience.

Many international students live in or around the city because of the proximity to their colleges and universities, and that was where we decided to focus our efforts first. Many of us live, work and study locally too. Our editorial team is made of both local and international students, and it has worked to our advantage in providing local content in every sense of the word.

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