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QLD Summit: Calls to harness diversity for a positive future

“We, through international education, have a real opportunity to be the champions of our community of Queensland, to say why it is so important that we, at every single decision point, embrace diversity,” said Kate Jones, ministerial champion for international education, in her opening speech of the recent International Education and Training Summit organised by Trade and Investment Queensland.

Using transactional language when discussing international educaiton can turn off students, according to Chris Ziguras. Photo: The PIEUsing transactional language when discussing international educaiton can turn off students, according to Chris Ziguras. Photo: The PIE

Much of international education’s language is transactional which leaves a bad taste in students’ mouths

Harnessing diversity and ensuring that it has a net positive effect on international students and the broader community was the overarching theme of the event.

“When I think about diversity, I think of things like big hearts and an open mind”

Discussing cultural and social benefits, the summit made a point of looking beyond the overarching economic benefits international education brings to Australia.

“That’s the role Study Gold Coast is trying to play to advocate the international student to help the residents see them more than just a dollar sign and understand the value they bring socially,” echoed Study Gold Coast chief executive, Shannon Willoughby, during a plenary session.

IEAA president Chris Ziguras, meanwhile, pointed out much of international education’s language is already transactional, which he said both left a bad taste in students’ mouths and was an inadequate means of advocating on behalf of the industry.

“When we have spoken about the benefits beyond our sector… it’s been typically financial benefit, the export revenue that Australia gains and we see that as pretty counter-productive. That is not persuading the population that it is worthwhile,” he told delegates.

“[It] even goes to talking about the countries which people come from as countries rather than markets.”

“We talk about source markets typically in the sector, and I think we need to stop doing that,” he impelled delegates.

While celebrating diversity and inclusion, the conference also explored the downsides of incorrectly implementing strategies and a lack of self-reflection.

“We do need to change and adapt… because if we don’t, everyone misses out”

“When we look at delivering diversity and thinking about what does diversity look like, we think of things like listening and respect, but our focus is so constantly on the other,” said the summit’s emcee, writer and actor Nakkiah Lui.

“When I think about diversity, I think of things like big hearts and an open mind, but most importantly a mirror. It’s about questioning your own beliefs as well.”

Bronwyn Fredericks, pro vice-chancellor Indigenous engagement at The University of Queensland, agreed with Lui’s comments, adding by treating all groups equally under an umbrella of diversity, an individual’s identity can be lost.

“It’s really problematic… that we can have an event where people want a Welcome or Acknowledgment and want Aboriginal people to do things and partake in certain ways… but then erase, minimise and dismiss that through the language of diversity,” she said.

“The advice that people at employment agencies give is to essentially whiten up”

“It erodes our whole sense of ourselves as Indigenous peoples of this place and this country.”

Focused on international education, the summit also covered the broader benefits of diversity. Writer and comedian Benjamin Law questioned Australia’s belief that it upholds a meritocracy by pointing to studies that found job seekers without Anglo-sounding names submitted up to 68% more applications before being invited to interview.

“The advice that people at employment agencies give, because they know this data, is to essentially ‘whiten up’,” he said.

“Don’t include a non-Anglo sounding name until you reach the job interview stage.”

He added that despite it being easy to label diversity and inclusion as tokenistic gestures, evidence showed broader benefits to people’s satisfaction, particularly within the workplace.

“We do need to change and adapt, not for political correctness, but because if we don’t, everyone misses out,” he said.

Queensland is Australia’s third-strongest performer in international education, hosting more than 123,700 international students in 2017.

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