August 2003 issue

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Nafsa conference aims to break down borders

The USA's Nafsa Conference took place in Salt Lake City, Utah, this year and welcomed over 5,000 conference delegates from around the world. Traditionally the big annual US conference for professionals involved in the study abroad industry, some delegates commented that the event was quieter than in previous years, with visa problems and the effects of the Sars outbreak taking the blame. However, according to Ursula Oaks, Spokesperson for Nafsa, there were 1,300 newcomers to the event this year.
The overriding theme of the workshops and discussion forums was the importance of international exchange to the USA. Speaking to the Salt Lake Tribune, Marlene Johnson, Executive Director of Nafsa, commented, 'Our nation simply cannot afford to lead with an inadequate knowledge and understanding of the world in which we are engaged.' Workshops included sessions on understanding Islamic and Muslim students, and speakers included Raghida Dergham, from the London-based Arabic newspaper, Al Hayat, and Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch.

More than 250 organisations participated in the international education expo that took place during the event.

Australia's quality package, at a cost

In its latest Federal Budget, the Australian government has in- troduced a new approach to international education, with initiatives designed to protect and support the sector. However, to fund these initiatives, registration charges for schools and colleges in the international sector are to rise and student visa fees have increased from July.

The benefits promised include more than AUS$41 million (US$27 million) spent on overseas promotion, government- to-government activities and an expansion of the Australian Education International (AEI) network; more scholarships; additional resources for ensuring compliance of the Education Services for Overseas Students (Esos) Act; and enhanced visa services, including more visa staff, better enforcement activities, more electronic visas and new visa classes - such as a professional development visa and student guardian visa.

Brendan Nelson, Minister for Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, explained, 'The Howard Government [has] announced a major package of initiatives worth AUS$113 million (US$74.4 million) that will support and expand Australia's vital international education industry.' He added, 'Worth more than AUS$5 billion (US$3.3 billion), education is now our third largest services export - bigger than wool and close to wheat.'

While the education industry broadly welcomed the changes and the government's focus on the sector, there was concern about the increased charges for students and providers. Sue Blundell at English Australia (EA) said, 'EA welcomes the focus on international education, which is long overdue. [We are] concerned, however, about the impact of the increased charges on Australia's international competitiveness.'

At IDP, which has an international network of offices that promote Australian education and place students, there were similar reservations. 'IDP is concerned that the revised international education [costs for] Australian institutions and the higher visa costs for international students could be a disincentive,' said Greg Gallaugher, IDP's Chief Operating Officer. 'Competition for international students around the world is increasing and Australia needs to remain competitive.'

The new registration charges for institutions are AUS$300 (US$198) plus AUS$25 (US$16) per student enrolment. Institutions with large numbers of students will be hardest hit. The Age newspaper estimated that Monash University, with 8,600 overseas students, would now be expected to pay AUS$250,975 (US$165,267), almost 30 times more than the maximum registration fee at present, which is AUS$8,462 (US$5,572).

Student visa costs are now AUS$400 (US$263) instead of the previous AUS$315 (US$207). However, David Chen at China Henan International Education Exchanges & Services in China told Language Travel Magazine that he did not believe this visa increase would affect a student's decision to study in Australia.

While concern about the increased operating costs remained across all international education sectors, the focus on quality - in an industry already highly regulated with a tuition assurance fund in place for every student - was met with approval. Blundell said, 'EA is pleased that there will be strong emphasis on ensuring quality standards as we believe students will benefit.'

For further information about the latest Australian government initiatives, visit http://aei.dest.gov.au/budget.

Chinese students slow to adapt

In China, reports of youths going off the rails while studying overseas are shocking the Chinese people and fostering a debate about the social responsibility in sending children overseas to study. Mirroring the situation that occurred in Korea several years ago, when newspapers ran articles about the social disenfranchisement of students abroad (see Language Travel Magazine, September 2000, page 6), questions are being asked about the mass student exodus out of China that has been gaining speed in the last few years.

In an article in the China Daily, China's one-child policy is blamed in part for the drive towards overseas education, coupled with the fact that overseas-educated Chinese are said to enjoy preferential treatment in the workplace. Stories about kidnappings, or one about a student who turned to drug dealing to keep up an extravagant lifestyle, are circulating in the press. The Global Times, a weekly publication from the People's Daily, conducted an investigation into the lives of Chinese students in the UK and USA. It concluded that the majority experienced loneliness and confusion at some point during their stay.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, the same observations are being noted by a social worker in Hamilton. Philip Yeung has commented that Asian students have too much money and not enough emotional support to deal with the freedom that their study abroad stay offers. He proposes sending an information pack to parents of overseas students outlining New Zealand's basic laws and consumer prices, so that they will have some idea about how much money their children will realistically need for their stay in the country.

Kidnapping and extortion among the Chinese community has occurred in a number of countries, including the UK, Ireland and New Zealand, and according to Yeung, is a real threat. He called on schools to do more to protect their students, adding that the revised Code of Practice for the Pastoral Care of Students in New Zealand should usher in stronger provisions for protecting international students of all nationalities in the country.

Ielts challenges fraudsters

As well as Ielts forgeries creating a headache for the exam administrators, more evidence of students cheating to gain a pass in the Ielts exam has been uncovered in New Zealand, according to an Independent Newspapers Limited (INL) source.

Despite students being required to show a passport to prove their identity when taking an Ielts test in the country, it is claimed that some students are replacing their passport photo with the photo of an imposter, who then takes the test on their behalf.

After the exam, students report their passport lost or stolen. In May, it was reported that 24 passports had been reported missing to Christchurch police.

The Ielts test service has now begun printing the photo of the test-taker on the Ielts test report forms in an effort to avoid such problems. It is hoped that, as well as warning all exam invigilators to watch out for the latest scams, schools and colleges accepting applications directly from students can check the photo of the student taken during the test with their actual appearance.

In a bid to stamp out the market for Ielts test forgeries, an online system for the verification of results is also being developed. At Canterbury University, Les Brighton told INL that he had discovered two 'superb forgeries' so far this year, one of which had been bought in New Zealand.

Iranians hot for study abroad

English language study in Iran is booming, according to a report by the BBC, as study abroad gains in popularity among the country's young population. Seventy per cent of the population in Iran are now under 30 years old and many see study abroad as a pathway to jobs and opportunity, especially as the employment market in Iran is competitive.

Last year, the number of Ielts test takers in the country grew by 84 per cent, and local English language schools are reported to be opening new branches to accommodate demand from students. Popular study abroad destinations with Iranian students also include non-English speaking countries, such as India.

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