SUPRA funds local student to attend international students' conference
After his family mortgaged their home in India to secure a student loan, Kiriti Mortha had to wait four days before his program commenced to receive his Australian visa.
This delay meant Mortha had to pay three times the price for a one way ticket to Sydney.
The expensive obstacles for international students do not stop at the international student university degree fees.
In addition to the lack of travel concessions for international students, they are also required to do full time study and often balance this with part time work.
Should they compromise their studies, being put on academic progression endangers visa grants.
Mortha hoped to speak about the difficulties he has faced at the annual conference organised by the Council for International Students Australia.
However, the Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association chose to fund a domestic student to attend the conference in early July.
“I was shocked when I found that [the local student] accepted to go to an International student’s conference,” Mortha said.
International Student Officer Dhaval Shukla attended the event in Darwin and chose to fund most of the trip himself. SUPRA paid $1000 for a domestic student to attend alongside Shukla on behalf of the University.
In a series of emails, Mortha, a SUPRA Councillor, requested that SUPRA fund an international student to attend the conference but received no reply initially.
“SUPRA has definitely done us wrong, and I think it’s high time they admit it,” he said.
Mortha created a petition to protest the funding of a domestic student prior to the conference. Since the release of this article, the petition has been signed by 26 students - nearly three times the quota to elect a Councillor to SUPRA.
When he took the petition to the council, the petition had 25 signatures - the quorum for a SUPRA Annual General Meeting.
“The council has a strength of 29 people, they couldn't even round up 25 of their own councillors to attend the AGM. But when 25 international students get together, they didn't take action.”
Postgraduate students comment their concerns on the petition
“It’s as ridiculous as a man going to a women’s conference,” Mortha said. “How will you know what it feels like to be taken for granted?”
“You can be sympathetic to it, but you can never really be empathetic.”
At a council meeting on July 15, Mortha moved a motion for the SUPRA Council to issue an unconditional apology to international students online regretting their action and confirming that such a decision will not occur again.
His motion for an apology was declined. SUPRA instead carried a motion to encourage more international students to attend the conference in the future.
During the discussion, SUPRA Councillors attested to the domestic student’s work in writing up a lengthy report on their experiences at the CISA conference.
“In a way you’re kind of institutionalising the exploitation aren’t you? You’re kind of saying, ‘Hey we sent the international student as representation but the domestic student was the one who has done all the work’,” Mortha said.
“Are you not clipping our wings?”
Dhaval Shukla, International Student Officer for SUPRA, said it was common at the conference for universities to take a domestic student to an international students’ conference.
He said the council decision to take a domestic student had “nothing to do with the competence of international students”.
“There’s no doubt that an international student would be able to produce the same quality of work,” Shukla said.
“We try in the best of our abilities to work for international students.”
Shukla said the presence of a domestic student meant they were able to ask the “point on” questions that he felt uncomfortable to ask.
Sanjana*, an Indian international postgraduate student, has said passivity amongst international students is a problem that should be curbed with these types of conferences.
“Most have come to this country for the first time,” Sanjana said. “On top of that, with your broken language to question authority - it’s a little intimidating.”
“There is no point lobbying for us when there’s none of us to actually say what we want to say,” she said.
As a signee of the petition, she called the move “sad” considering the number of international postgraduate students that attend the University.
“Thank you for respecting us, thank you for acknowledging our views and thank you for not making us feel like cash cows.”
The President of SUPRA and the domestic student Councillor who attended the CISA conference declined to comment.
*Name changed to protect identity