Adelaide: The premier of an Australian state has taken the unusual step of writing a personal letter to each of the 4,787 Indian overseas students enrolled in his state, assuring them of their safety and welfare.
South Australia Premier Mike Rann has written to Indian students highlighting not only his government's support but also the extra support networks available to ensure that their experience of living and studying is "overwhelmingly positive".
The spate of attacks on Indian overseas students, largely in Melbourne and Sydney, and the media furore that ensued have been threatening Australia's second largest education export market.
"I was pleasantly surprised to receive the premier's letter. It was good to know that the state government has taken a serious note of security of international students in South Australia," said Rengarajan Ramasamy, who has just completed his Master of Environmental Management from Flinders University in Adelaide.
The premier's letter elaborates the establishment of an Office of the Training Advocate, which provides individually tailored support and advice on all aspects of living and studying in Adelaide including employment, training, education and independent complaint handling process.
"The 'Training Advocate' initiative, only one of its kind, is new and sounds like a good one," says Ramasamy who hails from Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. He chose Australia for further studies over Canada, the US and Britain "mainly because both the cost of education and living are relatively less here".
There has been a 79.4 percent growth in students from India during 2008-2009. Ramasamy, like many Indian overseas students, plans to work here for the next couple of years, but he does want to return home to start his own enterprise and contribute towards natural resource conservation and environmental management in India.
Australian Education International statistics for Year-to-date May 2009 shows international student enrolments in South Australia increased by 23.9 percent compared to the same period in 2008. There are 24,296 international students from 130 countries studying in South Australia compared to 449,087 nationally, representing a market share of 5.4 percent.
The premier's letter emphasises: "Your safety is of the highest importance and the police and other authorities are committed to protecting you and your rights ....I can assure you that any form of discrimination or violence against international students will not be tolerated."
Maninder Deep Singh Malhi, who hails from Chandigarh and will complete his Bachelor of Management (Human Resource) from the University of South Australia at the end of the year, says, "The letter didn't come as a big surprise to me as I have noticed South Australia to be very proactive when it comes to reaching out to international students."
Unlike some other Australian states, all international students in South Australia are entitled to concessional tickets on public transport. There is also a free tram service connecting the city centre to the Adelaide Railway Station.
Study Adelaide runs a year-long programme of activities for international students, including free trips to sporting events, free tickets to the arts and free educational seminars. Each overseas student also receives a free comprehensive International Students' Survival Guide, providing advice on everything from finding accommodation and part-time work opportunities to personal safety and free city bus routes.
"As a student studying in a different country you do need to know that you are in a safe environment not just for yourself but for the family back home. A letter like this does show that the state is serious and is providing students with information that they may need during the course of their studies," says Malhi who plans to work in human resources for the next couple of years and then pursue a Masters degree in Australia.
"I would like to live here because there are lot more opportunities to advance one's career here and the cost of living compared to India is less," Malhi told IANS.