THE National Union of Students (NUS) has launched a campaign for a national student concession card scheme, aimed at allowing all students to buy concession fares on public transport.
Travel concession card schemes in Victoria exclude students who are on international student visas, students who study part time and work casually, as well as post-graduates. Previous attempts to widen eligibility have not been successful.
The Fair Fares for All Students campaign was prompted by two ACT Labor politicians, John Hargreaves and Joy Burch, saying they will raise the issue at a national level at the Community and Disability Services Ministers’ Conference (CDSMC) later in the year.
A petition in support of this has been signed by more than 2600 students to date and will be presented to the meeting of CDSMC in mid-August.
NUS international students officer Indrajeet Chauhan, said, “Victoria and NSW are the only states where international students are discriminated in relation to concession transport cards, despite 60% of the international student population studying and residing in these two states.”
“It has been argued by the government that international students are ineligible for concessions because in order to obtain the relevant visa to study in Australia, international students have indicated that they have sufficient funds to cover their living expenses for the duration of their stay while in the country, including international students transport costs,” he said.
He said equality in travel concessions was an important first step for international students to feel they were being treated fairly and equally, and not “simply seen as cash cows by the universities and government”.
The Australian Federation of International Students (AFIS) president Manjula Karunathilake said public transport had a significant impact on the overall study experience of international students in Australia.
“There are few students who will buy a car and drive around during their stay – most of them use public transport,” she said.
“Most students are not aware of the reality of the living costs versus their budget before they come to Australia…It should be clearly stated that there is no public transport concession offered in Victoria, in all official marketing and informational materials, to facilitate an informed decision by students. The fact that it is not… (doesn’t offer) students a clear picture of the expectations of studying and living in Victoria.”
“Victoria has the reputation for being the state who invests most into the welfare and positive experience of international students and granting (concession fares) would benefit it as the most desirable education destination, and Australia in the long term,” she said.
Melbourne University Overseas Students Service (MUOSS) president Eric Chan echoed similar sentiments.
“In addition, the rise of living costs, barriers to the general skilled migration program and the public transport fare charges may have consequential effects on prospective international students selecting the state of Victoria or New South Wales as a study abroad destination in the near future,” Mr Chan said.
NUS president Jesse Marshall said “the recent figures showing a continuing, sharp decline in offshore student visa applications from key countries such as India demonstrates the need for Australian governments to take clear, decisive action to repair Australia’s international reputation in higher education.”
He said while issues such as workplace intimidation and exploitation, as well as dodgy accommodation providers were more difficult to tackle, “governments can easily end transport concession discrimination by supporting the National Concession Card scheme”.
“It is of vital importance that the states of Victoria and New South Wales get on board with this proposal and support fair treatment of international students through fair access to concession fares,” Mr Marshall said.
When asked why international students were ineligible for transport concessions when they paid taxes like all other Australian citizens, Department of Transport media spokeswoman Larrisa Garvin said full fee paying international students were not eligible for Medicare, Centrelink benefits, rental assistance or most other taxpayer-subsidised social services, and that “the Victorian Government’s policy on public transport concession discounts was consistent with this approach”.
But concession discounts on public transport travel were available for some international students in Victoria, including those on approved exchange programs, those on Australian Development Scholarships, and for students with refugee status, she said.
Ms Garvin said the Department of Transport was keen to encourage students to use public transport, and that the department had recently boosted bus services to several university campuses, and invested $2 million into assessing the viability of a future rail link to Monash University.