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CISA 2018: concerns over accommodation and work rights persist

Delegates talked of an “unspoken truth” of problems assimilating at the student-led CISA National Conference held in Australia this year – the difficulties finding adequate housing, problems accessing services, workplace exploitation and even “hotbedding”, whereby students use a bed on rotation with another.

The CISA Conference attracted a record 250 delegates. Image: CISA

One delegate accused Australian providers of exploiting international students through high tuition fees

“It is an unspoken truth that most of the international students who come to Australia encounter a lot of challenges, including accommodation issues, lack of pre-departure information, lack of engagement… and value for money,” CISA national president Bijay Sapkota said at the conference’s opening.

“More so in Sydney and Melbourne, we are seeing a rise in [hot bedding], because of the accessibility issues”

“This conference has created a platform for international students to be involved in future strategic conversations.”

Covering a range of subjects, the event saw international students and industry leaders discuss barriers faced by international students and was a forum for many students to voice their concerns.

Chief among those concerns was access to affordable accommodation after a Student.com survey recently found Australia to be the world’s most expensive for renting for the second consecutive year.

During a session on the topic, Urbanest Australia’s international manager Rebecca Bendall said there was an increasing number of international students “hot bedding”, the practice of sharing a bed among several people over shifts.

“More so in Sydney and Melbourne, we are seeing a rise in [hot bedding], because of the accessibility issues,” she told delegates.

But while the affordability of accommodation was a concern, Bendall warned delegates to ensure they are using official information channels and not relying too heavily on word of mouth.

“The university will tell you the right thing. Government agencies will tell you the right thing. Your friends may not,” she said.

“We have a cyclic pattern. A student may fall into a trap and that is because a friend has referred them; their friend thinks they’re doing the right thing, but the friend hasn’t sought the right information in the first place.”

Undercutting discussions throughout the conference was students’ ability to find work and its impact on accommodation options and the likelihood of student exploitation in the workplace.

During a session on workplace exploitation, tensions boiled over as students and industry stakeholders discussed the level of responsibility that should be taken by students, providers and workplaces.

“One of my subjects costs an entire semester for domestic students, but I get to work less than half of what they do”

“If an international student knows they are being exploited from the first day, they need to take responsibility,” IEAA chief executive Phil Honeywood told delegates, urging students to report exploitation as soon as it occurs.

He added that further pre-departure information was needed and questioned whether education agents were inflating students’ expectations for employment opportunities.

But students countered that it was providers’ and local and national governments’ responsibility to ensure students have access to work while studying in Australia, with one student saying that asking those who are being exploited to report was “like victim-blaming”.

“We don’t have our parents to talk to us when we come across these issues how are we going to deal with it.”

Further pressing the point, another delegate accused Australian providers of exploiting international students through high tuition fees.

“If an international student knows they are being exploited from the first day, they need to take responsibility”

“One of my subjects costs an entire semester for domestic students, but I get to work less than half of what they do,” she said.

“I don’t have any help from back home, so I have to pay tuition [fees], accommodation and, in regional communities like Cairns, the transport system is horrible to get to campus if you don’t live in the city, so I have to pay for a car, I have to pay for fuel.”

Other topics covered throughout the three-day event included sexual health, as delegates and speakers discussed strategies to provide culturally sensitive information and ensure students aren’t exposed to STIs.

The eighth annual CISA Conference, held in Cairns in June and themed Overcoming Barriers, attracted a record 250 international student delegates.

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