INTERNATIONAL students in Melbourne have identified rising costs of living, a lack of concession fares on public transport, employment and visa issues as the biggest factors impacting their overall experiences of studying and living in Melbourne.
These issues emerged as the overall themes of the International Student Survey conducted by the City of Melbourne in October and November last year.
The previous International Student Survey was conducted in 2008, and while the overall results of the 2010 survey were positive and showed some improvements, they also revealed students on average were less satisfied, and their overall perceptions of studying in Melbourne were significantly lower.
The rise in the value of the Australian dollar and increasing living expenses like rent, food and bills contributed to students feeling very dissatisfied with the affordability of living in Melbourne.
The high cost of living was also the most prominent reason students gave for not recommending Melbourne as a place to study and live.
Finding employment was the biggest influence on students’ decisions of whether to stay on in Melbourne after graduation; and the difficulty in gaining employment was compounded by the recent changes to immigration rules, which have made it harder for international students to obtain permanent residency.
Employment opportunities were hampered by most employers’ preference for hiring Australian citizens or permanent residents.
Being able to obtain permanent residency in Australia was the third most important factor influencing students’ decisions to stay in Melbourne after completing studies.
Public transport was once again a significant issue for international students, who expressed disappointment about their ineligibility for concession fares.
The cost of public transport was regarded as the area most in need of improvement, and these concerns influenced students’ decision to not recommend Melbourne as a study destination to their friends.
The perceived lack of safety was another reason cited for not recommending Melbourne, with international students saying safety was deteriorating rather than improving.
Students also reported feeling discriminated against.
That said, the diversity of culture, cuisine, cafes and entertainment was rated by students to be among the best aspects of studying and living in Melbourne, with students enjoying and appreciating the number things to see and do.
City of Melbourne councillor Jennifer Kanis said more than half of students living in the city are international students.
The survey was conducted as part of the Council’s efforts to better enable them to cater to the needs of international students and enhance their stay in Australia.
Cr Kanis said the City of Melbourne continues to be “strongly committed to providing a positive experience for international students through a broad program of initiatives… to empower and engage students in the life of the city.”
“The Council works in partnership with a number of organisations, including the State Government, Victoria Police, the Salvation Army, the Australian Federation of International Students, as well as a number of education providers “to address the broader international student community’s safety, social connection and health and wellbeing,” she said.
As part of the council’s efforts to address student safety, Cr Kanis said the City of Melbourne has endorsed the Universities Action Plan for Student Safety.
“Crime of any kind is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in our city, but it’s important to be aware that city safety is a multi-faceted issue for which there is no single ‘quick-fix’ solution,” she said.
Public transport and permanent residency issues are not within the jurisdiction of the Council, but even though the City of Melbourne is limited in its power to address these concerns, Cr Kanis said the council acts as a key facilitator between various Federal and State agencies to advocate on behalf of international students.
Some of the initiatives the City of Melbourne has undertaken to help international students settle into life in Australia include the annual City of Melbourne Welcome to International Students event, which introduces students to the city and the services and events on offer; the publication of the Discover Melbourne guide, and the distribution of information packs to newly arrived students at the airport.
Cr Kanis said the Council is continually working to improve the City’s local education, arts, culture and entertainment offering “to ensure that Melbourne retains its position as a destination of choice for students.”