Last summer, BC — Before Covid — a friend and I strolled around Canberra’s university precinct, called ‘The China Quarter’ by some locals, to talk some of ANU’s international students, most busy slurping spicy Szechuan dishes, while Hong Kong pop almost –- not quite– drowned out the buzz of conversation. We stopped at one table where one diner recognised my friend from an earlier meeting; they both spoke the Beijing dialect, making for easy, ice-breaking small talk.
Yes, they liked the university, but why were the academics so strict? They were being paid by students to teach, there was no need to penalise someone for cut-and-paste essays from the internet, surely? And Canberra was well, boring. They had money but there were few places to spend it. So they ate a lot at restaurants where the waiters understood their tastes in food and spoke their language and the restaurants often changed yuan and US dollars into the local currency, saving tedious and time-consuming trips to a bank or money exchange.
These are the ‘princelings’ and ‘little empresses’, the sons and daughters of the high CCP elites, kids who entered Australian universities because they were cheaper than the United States, Britain or Canada and where they could learn enough English to speak it before they took up their rightful places with companies owned and run by their parents. Australia was a safe country, although one student admitted her mother, a Party high up, insisted she take a hire car for the journey from ANU to Sydney International Airport for the flight back home, because a Murrays Bus or Greyhound, well, not so good.
Australian universities have, for over a decade, made money, lots of money, from international students. Now, as our farmers, fisherfolk, winemakers and iron ore producers feel the brunt of China’s bullying, it’s time to send some signals to Beijing that Australia does have some last weapons in the locker and maybe, if pushed, use them.
Perhaps a 100 per cent levy -– let’s call that an ‘education’ entry permit’ for each student from China re-entering or enrolling at an Australian university. Yes, the academic screams will be heard all over this wide brown land, but really, is this so unfair?
It’s not being directed at the pedicure girl who treats your corns and bunions or the man who takes on the jobs Australians don’t want. Those are the real ‘peasants’ unlike princelings, whose ‘guanxi’ (connections) carry them high above the crowd of ordinary mortals.
And how to distinguish sane, worthy students, those that might want to stay on in Australia and give something back to the host country?
My informant throws me a pitying glance.
“None of those students – ones at the table, will stay on in Australia. Why should they? Their futures are in China. Some, a very few, might stay on, lengthening their courses, to get an Australian passport or buy real estate, but most will move on. Australia isn’t rich or forward-moving enough for them. These are the high flyers of the future.”
I think about the shiploads of migrants, eager, hopeful, ready to make a go of it, people like my parents, who arrived with little money but solid professional qualifications who lived and died in this new country.
Maybe an ‘education entry permit fee’ is something to be considered?
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