Aussie style Supari—pay to get Killed

 What we need is protection, not tips
The parents and relatives of the Indian students in Australia take out a protest rally in Amritsar on Friday against the recent racist attacks on their

Indian students in Australia make a massive contribution to the Australian economy.

It is estimated that one lakh Indian students are studying in Australia. Most of them pay hefty fees for the courses.

Assuming that each student spends around Rs 20 lakh for a two-year course, including tuition, travel, stay and food — as a conservative estimate — the total comes to Rs 20,000 crore.

That is what they spend. They are thus an important resource for the Australian education system. So, when they are attacked and injured or killed by thugs in public places the least they can expect is proper protection by the system.

Instead, the government of Australia offers tips to Indian students about behaving in public places. It is shameful that the government has not categorically, unequivocally and unambiguously condemned these attacks even after learning that the gangs are celebrating what they call “Indian hunting month”. The racist undertones are apparent, but it is not clear that the authorities are addressing the issue.

The Australian police maintain that these are “opportunistic crimes” — whatever that means. In a crowded running train when thugs were beating up Indian students mercilessly, no one came to help the victims. Another student was beaten up on a crowded railway platform. Again, there was no one to rescue him. It is hard to believe that they would have shown such indifference if one of their own was being so belaboured. Their behaviour makes one suspect a revival of embedded racism in that society.

The sort of treatment Indian students have been subject to should have moved India’s Ministry of External Affairs to call the Australian High Commissioner and give him a mouthful.

Just suppose a single Australian student had been hit in India. Our entire TV and print media would have gone wild about it. They would have had debates about how unsafe India is for foreigners and how much “fascist groups” are growing in Gandhian India, and why the chief minister concerned should be punished, and so on and so forth. There would be national hysteria at least in the electronic media about how Indo-Australian bonds should not be weakened.

Interestingly, the coverage, at least initially, by the Australian print and electronic media was, to say the least, frugal.

Later too, the coverage has been more concerned about the image of Australia as a destination for foreign students rather than the menace of racist thugs in Australia.

The reason is pretty simple. Unlike India, Western (one can include Australia here) nations are concerned about their interest, primarily financial interest, before anything else.

Educational institutions in Australia (as in Britain and the US) are starved of funds and so they go around the world begging for funds in the guise of “educational opportunities” or “educational fairs”. They are encouraged in this by the Indian media in terms of coverage and obeisance.

It is also a sad commentary on our own complexes that we should prefer to graduate from a third-rate foreign university to struggling to get degrees here in India.

The problem, however, is more deep-rooted.

Why do students go to these universities to study? Part of the responsibility lies with our system.

Many of our universities favour casteism and there seems to be little concern for quality education. The appointment of many vice chancellors is based on considerations other than professional. The government still controls higher education and its hold is getting stronger. Another major attraction of foreign universities is that there is no concept of failure once you pay the requisite fees. And a foreign degree, whatever the quality of the institution, is respected.

The only way out is for the government to throw open the entire spectrum of higher education to the private sector and create a SEBI-type monitor to ensure transparency and accuracy of information. Every institution under its purview should be required to provide information on faculty, facilities, course content, previous year’s placement, etc. The key is transparency as the present process of approvals is full of corruption and nepotism.

The amount of Rs 20,000 crore spent by Indians on education in Australia is but one part of the story. If we add all other countries, the figure could be Rs 1 lakh-crore spent on foreign education. It is a standing irony that domestic institutions should be starved of funds in the midst of this plenty. To top it all, the government last year in an obscene gesture provided more than Rs 100-crore to Cambridge and Harvard — to the former to celebrate Nehru entering its portals and to the latter to study India.

It is suggested that education is a state subject. Then why have a ministry of HRD at the central level? In any case, the very idea of government babus directing higher education is not a feasible proposition in the 21st century. The new HRD minister should try to make his job redundant since that would be a measure of his efficiency.

It has always been suggested that the government should focus on primary education and leave higher education in private hands. That would be like asking quacks to treat babies while qualified surgeons take care of the elderly. The better idea is the voucher system if the government wants to help the needy — wherein students can choose the institutions in which they want to learn. That will weed out the “shops” masquerading as educational institutions.

The idea of government in education is as dangerous as government in business. Let the government be a facilitator and arms-length-distance regulator.

The ex-chief of Telstra has said that “Aussies are racists”, but why are we getting maimed and murdered after spending Rs 20,000 crore to sustain the Australian educational system? Maybe our embedded colonial genes have suggested this new type of supari — that we pay to get killed.

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