Yet international students struggle with challenges of loneliness, racism and poverty

Melbourne, May 11: Melbourne retains itself as one of the best student city in the country and has leapfrogged Paris and Montreal to become the third best student city in the world, according to the QS Best Student Cities 2018 ranking.

Moving up two spots on last year’s ranking, Melbourne now sits behind only London and Tokyo.

Amongst the capital cities in Australia, Melbourne also maintained its status as Australia’s best student city for the fourth year in a row, with Sydney ranked ninth, Brisbane 21st, Canberra 22nd and Perth 39th.

“The climb up the rankings is due to high praise from current and former students, including international students, which forms one of the six indicator categories”, according to a statement released by Victorian Minister for Trade and Investment Philip Dalidakis.

The other five categories are desirability, affordability, student mix, university rankings and employer activity.

Melbourne has consistently ranked at the top in terms of ‘student mix’ category, reflecting the multi-cultural society and consistent growth in international student numbers.

The Victorian government’s four-year International Student Welfare Program has funded more than 45 projects dedicated to student wellbeing, experience, integration and safety since 2016.

Last financial year the international education sector generated $9.1 billion in onshore revenue, making it the state’s largest services export industry and supporting more than 58,000 local jobs.

“Melbourne provides students with rich and varied experiences – from the beautiful beaches and natural wonders just a short drive from the CBD, to a plethora of sporting events, arts, music, comedy, film, and multicultural festivals,” said Mr Dalidakis talking of advantages of enrolling in a Melbourne institution.

Victoria’s flourishing international education sector now hosts than 200,000 students from over 170 countries.

Increasing number of students was one of the leading focal points of Victoria’s recently released India strategy. Premier Daniel Andrews wants to increase the number of Indian postgraduate students by a quarter by 2027.

However, in a recent report, ABC Radio reported that international students face challenges of loneliness, racism and poverty.

Although numbers continue to rise, with international students now making up more than a quarter of the total enrolments at some universities; yet life for them in Melbourne “didn’t always match up with the reality when they arrived”.

Of the five international students who shared their stories with ABC, Ujash Patel from India said that “once he arrived the reality was not as bright as he had hoped for”.

Ujash Patel like many other international students face lonliness and difficulty in adjusting to the new culture @ABC_Nicole Mills

“After shifting here I felt like there was a very huge portion that was missing. I started to feel really homesick.

“…it’s really difficult for us to attract the locals and go out and do all the things that they like to do. They already have their groups formed, they have their school friends, even when they go to university, and we have our different interests, we come from a different culture so it’s really difficult to find a common link,” Ujash said.

Ujash told ABC that as a foreign student in Australia, going out and meeting people could sometimes feel like hard work.

Akhtar Ali, from Pakistan, finished his studies last year and now works in Australia.

He said loneliness was one of the biggest challenges he faced. He explained how families all lived together in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

“It’s not like when you get older, 18-plus, you just move out.

“You just stay there in a big family so you kind of miss them a lot, because here you are alone, by yourself, with no relatives and even no new friends. That’s, I think, common with all the students.”

Akhtar is also spearheading this ‘experience sharing’ as part of a theatre performance called She’ll Be Right.

He said it was important for other international students to know they were not alone because they often struggled to share their feelings with others.

He told ABC that a “big part” of the Australian economy is based on international students, “so if students are not happy, soon this industry is going to collapse and I don’t think the Government wants that.

“So it’s good that we came out and we are telling others that these are the problems we are facing”.

International students are calling for universities to take initiatives “to make students aware that we are here for you and you can come to us with problems”.

According to November 2017 figures, close to 70,000 students were studying in Australian universities and colleges which is 14.65 percent higher than the previous year.

India is the second largest source of International students after China.

Ramakrishna VenuGopal

feature image: Akhtar Ali is spearheading the campaign for international students @ABC_Nicole Mills

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