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Oz reveals steps to improve safety of students

April 21, 2010 19:50 IST

Against the backdrop of attacks on Indian youths, a key inter-governmental forum in Australia has announced a slew of initiatives, including setting up of an information portal, to improve the safety and well-being of international students.

The Council of Australian Governments said the measures will be implemented under its International Students Strategy for Australia that will include a central portal to provide students with up-to-date information on personal safety, student support services, housing, workplace rights and other useful information.

Apart from that, it will include a national strategy to improve connections between students and the communities they live in and an international student committee to give students a forum to put forward their views on their experiences in Australia.

There will also be an independent statutory complaints body, which will be mandatory for international providers and task forces in each state and territory, to ensure students are provided with proper support in the event of a provider's closure.

The measures were announced against the backdrop of a series of attacks on Indian students since June last year. Nitin Garg, who died in January, was the first victim of such an assault.

Welcoming the COAG move, Education Minister Julia Gillard said the strategy would complement the findings of the Baird review, to ensure that Australia remains a world-leader in the international education sector.

The new agreement will benefit over 434,000 students from 190 countries worldwide who are currently living and studying in Australia, according to an official statement.

Measures already introduced by the government include a nationwide audit of education providers and a requirement for them to re-register their courses under tighter new criteria in 2010.

Gillard also welcomed a decision by Australian police commissioners to share initiatives designed to ensure student safety and improve the dissemination of information to stakeholders.

The final International Students Strategy for Australia will be released by COAG -- which comprises the prime minister, state premiers, territory chief ministers and the
president of the Australian local government association -- in the coming weeks. The COAG, which concluded its 29th meeting in Canberra on Tuesday, noted that there has been a rapid growth in the number of international students studying vocational education
and training courses in particular.

It was agreed that this growth has resulted in pressure on regulating the quality of the market and ensuring that international students have access to adequate support and infrastructure.

The meeting also noted that early measures have already been taken to strengthen regulation and education quality.

A programme for rapid quality and financial viability audits of international education providers was already implemented and COAG acknowledged work with overseas governments to improve the regulation of education agents operating in their countries.

Strengthened migration policy arrangements were also looked at to encourage international students to focus on obtaining quality education from quality providers and to ensure that student visa applicants have the necessary funds to live in Australia.

The COAG acknowledged measures to focus on and increase police surveillance of high crime areas and the engagement of police, multicultural affairs agencies and other community groups in programmes to improve the safety and well-being of the community, including international students.

During the meet, Australian police commissioners agreed that through the Australian and New Zealand policing advisory agency, the police would share best-practice safety initiatives related to international students and ANZPAA would work with stakeholders as appropriate to disseminate this information.

Natasha Chaku In Melbourne
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