By Cindy Yu
Chinese international students express frustration of having to take up the double role of the victim from racial discrimination and the threat to Australian Universities.
Since the middle of last year, Chinese international students have been the target of racial discrimination in schools and universities. Insulting incidents such as racist flyers towards Chinese students found at Melbourne universities, offensive message of ‘Kill Chinese’ with the Nazi symbol written on the University of Sydney campus and the latest physical assault on a Chinese student at bus stop in Canberra.
In December, the last attack pushed the China’s embassy into issuing a safety warning, to Chinese students in Australia, urging them, “to keep alert of possible danger and call the police and embassy if such incidents occur,” read the warning.
A group of students from Monash University conducted a research project in measuring “perceived discrimination towards
Chinese, Indonesian and Japanese international students in Australian universities.” They found that 93% of Chinese international students had, “reported at least one experience of major discrimination during their time at university,” while 85% of Indonesian students and 75% of Japanese students have had experienced racial discrimination.
Due to the confidentiality of University of New South Wales’ racial discrimination complaints handling process, they were not able to provide any response nor comment on how the university is going to address these issues. However, they emphasised, “that any complaints of racial discrimination could amount to a breach of the Student Code and potentially lead to disciplinary action by the Director, UNSW Conduct and Integrity”.
While the University of Sydney was also unable to comment on the issue, their University spokesperson responded to the racist vandalism last year, “The University of Sydney is committed to ensuring that our community is a safe, inclusive and supportive one. Every student has a right to safety at the University of Sydney.
Any graffiti or posters placed around campus of a racist nature are immediately removed.”
However, Chinese International students still express concern and insecurity about their safety in studying in Australia, “I don’t know whether other people are crazy or not, whether they’ll do the same thing to me,” says Yifan Huo, a Chinese International student from University of Technology Sydney. Huo continues, “I don’t know why, all the Chinese students are just studying here, they didn’t do anything, why they treat us like this. What reasons caused them to do this kind of things.”
A Sydney University Chinese student, who did not want to be identified, also expresses frustration in wanting to understand the motivation behind these racist actions towards them, “What are the things we Chinese students do it interrupt them? I think we didn’t do anything to interrupt others. Actually, as a freshman in the university, I try to learn more culture from other countries and show my respect in others. So, I couldn’t understand why they do these terrible things.”
Although some students were not affected by these incidents and believe that Australia is a safe place to study, “it’s not that big concern for me because overall my experience living here, everyone is quite nice to me…they didn’t do anything obvious to say like discrimination,” says Maggie Chan, a Chinese International student from UNSW. They still feel a sense of barrier between themselves and society, “It shows that they’re not accepting people from a different culture and it just makes me feel really hard to one hundred percent blend into society,” says Louis Lin, a student from Sydney University.
As these Chinese students are struggling to feel accepted in Australia, Daily Mail Australia’s recent article, “Academics warn dependence on Chinese students is ‘corroding the soul of Australian universities’ as numbers jump by 50 percent in two years,” provoked Grace Ou, a Media student from Monash University, to post her response and thoughts on her Wechat feed about portrayal of Chinese International students in Australia. While she wants her post to remain private, in her Wechat messages, she was “shocked and angry, because the media should not target and frame us (Chinese students) in such negative way…The media try to make us look evil and marginalized. Such as spy.”
Ou says that this negative representation of Chinese students, “is very irresponsible… and it will reinforce stereotypes of Chinese students. Reputation is vital for everyone, but our reputation has been ruined by them.”
Earlier this month, Sydney Morning Herald released an article in discussing the dramatic increase international students’ influence, especially Chinese, over Australian education sector. They reported that the number of international students in Australia has increased by 20, 745 from 2015 to 2017, where 31.7% of this population are Chinese students.
They also reported that in 2016, for the first time NSW universities’ fee revenue from international students are much greater than the domestic students, with them covering under $2 billion while international students cover over $2.2 billion.
This has raised concerns about the teaching quality of Australian universities. In June, the Audit Office of New South Wales’ report stated that, “The increasing number of overseas students can have significant financial benefits to a university. However, there are associated risks, including pressure on capacity constraints and the need to maintain teaching quality,” says the report.
Nancy Chen, the president of the Australian Youth Chinese Association (ACYA) in University of Technology Sydney disagrees, “I think that most of them (international students) self- learn English at home anyways, so they don’t slow down the pace of the university,” she says in her message. “I think people all have different learning abilities anyway and the tutor would hold the group/ class as a whole, so it won’t affect too much or change the quality of learning.”
Annie Yu, student from UNSW, holds the same viewpoint in her message response, “The uni is not going to change the whole course just because some people felt them as being hard. The courses have been designed over these years in a way which aims to suit all students who got into that degree.”
The Audit Office report also raised concern of the concentration of Chinese international students, in which Clive Hamilton, a Professor of Public Ethics at Charles Stuart University and the author of Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia, told the Sydney Morning Herald that “we must prepare for and welcome fewer Chinese students…We should diversify our international student population because the overdependence on Chinese students is corroding the soul of our universities.
In response to these reports, Julie Zhu, the president of ACYA in UNSW comments that, “Media portrays Chinese in a way that makes Australian public fear Chinese investments, the fear of, like, Chinese people taking over Australia as well. Media has escalated that fear…I think that misunderstanding is what cause this kind of main backlash against Chinese students.”
Ciara Morris, the president of ACYA in University of Sydney agrees that Australian media is, “quite inflammatory about the relationship (Australia and China) and almost trying to push this stigma even further and I think that’s really disheartening. As an Australian I would like to think that our media, if anything, would be pushing for Australia to be more multicultural and less discriminatory.”