Vicki Thomson, chief executive of the Group of Eight (Go8), Australia’s leading research-intensive universities, has called on the new federal government to reset relations with China on research, end the treatment of Chinese students as cash cows, and improve pathways into work for international students.
She also urged the government to ditch its predecessor’s policy of “taking fewer students from China and diversifying more into other nations”.
In a speech at the ACBC Australia-China Education Symposium on 10 June, Thomson accused politicians of allowing political concern and rhetoric about China to reach fever pitch.
She lambasted the previous Liberal government, ousted in May’s general election, for its “clumsy”, “misguided” and “unfortunate” treatment of international students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She lamented the number of international students lost to Australia and “won so well” by competitor nations, such as the United Kingdom and United States, who were “rubbing their hands with glee”.
“Our then government told [the international students] to leave; to go home if they could not support themselves financially and medically during the many and long lockdowns, especially in the eastern States.
“What a misguided message to send globally about how our nation viewed those supposedly valued university students. More recently the message the former government sent to those students in an effort to reconnect was equally clumsy,” she said.
The message could be summarised as “come back because we need you to work in our pubs and clubs, restaurants and shops”, she said. “Really, is that the best they could do?”
She said: “They are not a stop gap measure to fill low wage vacancies. Nor are they just a source of institutional and national revenue. They are the world’s next generation of highly qualified professionals for which there is an urgent skills shortage here and overseas.