According to the ABS, Australia hosted 589,860 international students in 2014.
Ballpark calculations show that we, as a country, could generate up to 15,000 tons of edible international student meat per year.That’s more than 100 million dollars, being conservative 1.
Eating our international students, then, could be a huge revenue stream for Aussies.
Data shows that international students have higher chances to suffer a violent crime. They’re three times more likely to live in overcrowded dwellings than domestic students, they pay up to six times more university fees 2 and twice more for public transport.
When one comes to Australia as an international student is required to pay for mandatory medical checks, medical insurance and a student VISA. They have limits to how much they can work, they often have worse jobs and tend to pay more in required training and certification -RSA, RCG, white card, green card, etc.- to access them.
Additionally they’re more vulnerable to cheap labour and exploitation. If you’re unlucky you can end up being paid under $8 an hour.
It may seem they’re being sucked out the narrow, all but literally. If we’re just looking for profit we’re doing great, aren’t we?
The next logical step toward benefit would be, as the government probably is already contemplating, to literally eat them. This is the kind of proactive, out of the box approach that we desperately need to thrive in an increasingly competitive global environment. A modest proposal, if you like.
Then why we’re not already enjoying yummy postgrad dumplings and uploading the pictures on Instagram? Some argue it could derive into an economic hindrance. I’ll explain why it won’t.
It turns out international students may be stubborn at times. In 2009 they protested in Sydney and Melbourne claiming equal rights. Or specifically, the right to access concession transportation cards, which usually grant a 50 percent discount in public transport fares. At the time Victoria and NSW were the only two states where only Australian residents could access this assistance
Victoria reacted, eventually. NSW didn’t.
NSW launched the new Opal Card in 2014, and the subsequent concession Opal Card this February. Only domestic students can access it.
Best case scenario: you can pay $8,4 a week for unlimited travel. That’s around $436 for travelling every week of the year if you’re good using your Opal. When I reached out Transport NSW for a word on alternatives for international students, they urged them to buy the 365-day ticket. That’s $1,600 per year. If international students don’t start rioting because of that, eating them probably won’t make it either.
According to Transport NSW, international students weren’t a priority long before Opal Card, so it isn’t to blame for the situation.
“It’s long-standing government policy that Australians and recipients of those scholarships [Endeavour, Australia Awards] have access to concession fares. That existed before Opal.”
Transport NSW representative
In fact, other institutions followed the trend. Public pools are being asked to request for the concession sticker of international students to grant them student discounts. If you happen to be an international student, no sticker for you.
University of Sydney student Xue Chen was recently asked for a concession sticker to access to student fees in the North Sydney Pool . She claims she felt “confused” and “depressed”.
My point is: NSW can make students feel completely miserable and it’ll still maintain the title of the state with the highest number of international students. International students will put up with whatever we throw at them.
Therefore, it doesn’t matter if international students generated $15,7bn and 151,800 fixed term jobs in 20143. It doesn’t matter if they’re a magnet for tourism, fundamental for research and development and to address skill shortages, or if they have a crucial role maintaining our education system and foreign relations.
It doesn’t matter because eating international students would generate $100m and would unlikely have a negative effect in their visits. It may not seem like a big deal, but from a strict revenue rationale, $15.8bn is better than $15.7bn.
Still, there’s a small chance on this decision being counter-productive in the long term if international students return to their old habits. On the other hand, judging the precedents, it seems highly unlikely: our whole policy-making process is based in the assumption that no matter how hard you screw international students, they’ll keep coming in figures.
So far it has worked just fine. Eating them, then, is more a continuation of current policies rather than its abrupt revision.
However, even in the event of international students abandoned their passive stand. Even if they protested and stopped at the perspective of being eaten; even then, with the economic loss it would imply, it could be for good.
Some Australians have been pointing out the annoying nature of international students. Let the discussions regarding the concession Opal Card serve as example.
Some of the comments are made in a powerful but unarticulated way we should understand: “If you have such a problem why not go to Uni in your own country and then you can get your student bus price lol (sic)”. Or “The choice is for international students to come to study in Australia. Its (sic) not as if anyone has sugarcoated the cost that you are potentially paying to make the travel”.
The evident hostility towards international students may be the best proof of their negative effect in our country and culture. It’s a visceral reaction against something foil that is indubitably there, but that escapes a definition. They may contribute with an impressive amount of money, hard work and endurance. Even the claims of international students lowering the bar of our education may have been proven to be untrue.
Nevertheless we still recognise we don´t like them. They’re change, they’re the other. They’re the end of Australia as we know it.
And yes, cultures mutate, evolve and perish as a natural process: the ruins of ancient Greece fertilised modern western civilisation. Rome succumbed to brutality. Pre-Columbian empires are forever gone. Even Australia has transitioned from totally different stages in recent decades.
Nonetheless, one cannot but wonder if Australian culture in 2015 is not the epitome of human spirit and deserves to be preserved, forever immutable, to be a symbol of the marvels achievable by mankind. It probably does.
1 Calculations made with 25kg of meat per student on average and a market price of $9/kg.
2 Percentages of domestic student and international student fee contribution available here. Calculations done with percentage of international tertiary students and total fee contribution to higher education.
3 Jobs per international student in 2009 data provided by the ATN. Data extrapolated using international student numbers from 2014.