Monash Bans International Students From Student Elections
By Emma Goldrick
Australia’s prestigious Monash University has come under fire due to recent announcements that international students will be banned from running in SRC and other university-related elections.
Monash Caulfield’s Student Council attempted to discreetly ban international students from participating by introducing a rule that meant students wishing to run in SRC elections must be legally eligible to work 22 hours per week. This requirement was designed so that international students studying on a student visa were banned from running due to 20-hour workweek visa restrictions. The rule was introduced a week prior to Monash’s SRC elections in which a Chinese international student group was tipped to win. Pulp Media reached out to Jacky He, USYD SRC President and member of the on-campus faction Panda who explained;
“I reached out to the President of the Monash University Chinese Student Association and was told that about half of the international student brand “Go!” were deprived of their abilities to run because of the new restrictions imposed by the student council”.
Monash’s decision to limit the influence and voice of international students on the university’s campus has quickly followed statements made by politicians and academics that Chinese University student groups may hold ties to the Chinese Communist Party. The Morrison government recently announced they would be creating a task force dedicated to “countering Chinese Communist Party influence on campuses”. The concern of the Chinese government's influence in Australian Universities has been exacerbated by the on-campus discourse between pro-democracy Hong Kong Students and Mainland Chinese Students. Recent protests and counter-protests regarding Hong Kong’s independence have seen political tension on university campuses throughout Australia. While there have been overt attacks from both sides of the debate, many have denounced the claims that international students are connected to the Chinese Communist Party calling them fear-mongering tactics, blatant attacks on international students and overtly racist sentiments. Earlier this year Jacky He told Fairfax that;
“It’s quite unjust for people to say ‘Hey look, because these a lot of Chinese students, they must be Chinese spies’. We want to adjust our stance – to tell everyone that we are not the kind of people you say we are”.
At Monash University 62% of the student population is made up of international students, a figure that doubles Australia’s national average. Monash’s ban on international students essentially means international students must pay SRC fees (upwards of $300 per year) but are not allowed to partake in the representative body. Critics are claiming that disabling over half of the student population from participating in university elections is an undemocratic and marginalising tactic. Jacky He told Pulp Media that he believes;
“Action taken by Monash University Student Union is discriminative and capitalises on the disadvantage of others, excluding them from what is supposed to be a fair election. But if we dig deeper into the issue, it actually reflects a wider issue that I am more concerned with - it’s the misunderstanding between international and domestic students, the fear that they may have of each other.”
Despite the Monash international student group Go! Challenging the decision through an internal university tribunal, they were unsuccessful. Go! attempted to challenge the motion on the bases that it was “discriminatory and breached the Equal Opportunity Act”. The student unions election tribunal responded by claiming that the ruling caused “indirect discrimination” against international students but stated it would be upheld on the grounds that the act did not protect against discrimination on the basis of visa type. To the credit of Monash administration, that quickly intervened from the student body and cancelled the upcoming election until the dispute was resolved.
With the distance between domestic and international students growing wider Jacky he emphasised the role media must play in creating a harmonious environment on campus;
“Student Media and Student organisations such as SRC, SUPRA and USU should promote further intercultural events that help to improve the interaction between local and international students.”
The USU released a statement condemning MONSU for “plainly oppressive, xenophobic” measures and further stated that “student unions exist for students - all students”.
At present, Monash university is the only institution to go ahead with this discriminatory policy. Time will tell whether other institutions will be inspired to follow, or whether Monash will stand alone.