Embracing international students: Valuing diversity, fostering success

20 July 2023

Australia has long been a welcoming destination for international students who bring with them diverse cultures, perspectives and aspirations. These young individuals traverse great distances, leaving their homes and loved ones behind, pursuing education and contributing to our country’s vibrant academic landscape.

Associate Professor Ritesh Chugh

This leads to missed opportunities for personal growth and hinders the collective progress of communities across Australia. We must recognise the immense value of international students, both as individuals and contributors to our economy, and extend our support to ensure their well-being and success in the land down under.

Australia’s appeal as a global education hub lies not only in the quality of our institutions but also in the cultural tapestry woven by international students. Students from diverse cultural backgrounds enrich their classrooms, campuses and communities with unique experiences, traditions and perspectives. By fostering an inclusive environment that values diversity, we can open doors to cross-cultural understanding, broaden horizons and encourage collaboration. Through such interactions, local students also benefit by gaining global competence and forging lifelong connections with others from around the world.

Beyond their cultural contributions, international students also play a pivotal role in Australia’s economic prosperity. They contribute billions of dollars annually, support various sectors and address job shortages. Their expenditures on tuition, accommodation, transportation and daily essentials help sustain local businesses and bolster economic growth. By nurturing international students, we nurture financial stability and lay the foundation for a prosperous future.

Despite their immense contribution, international students often face challenges that can lead to feelings of isolation and neglect. Adjusting to a new culture, language and education system is daunting, and the absence (or low awareness) of adequate institutional and national support systems can exacerbate their difficulties. Language barriers, limited social networks and academic and financial difficulties compound their struggles. Moreover, research indicates that international students are more susceptible to depression, anxiety and mental health disorders than their Australian peers. Educational institutions should prioritise increasing staff awareness about the growing prevalence of mental health issues and ensure that such concerns are not dismissed as nonexistent. Neglecting these students’ emotional and practical needs not only hampers their personal growth but also jeopardises our reputation as a compassionate and inclusive nation.

When international students are neglected, the repercussions extend far beyond their individual experiences. They may develop a negative perception of our country, influencing their families and peers back home. This ripple effect can deter prospective students from considering Australia as their study destination, resulting in a decline in enrolment numbers and, subsequently, a loss of economic opportunities. By investing in the well-being of international students, we can not only strengthen our reputation but also engage in effective public diplomacy, attracting talent and fostering long-term international relationships.

To ensure international students thrive, it is imperative that we, as stakeholders in international education, proactively address their unique needs. Educational institutions, local communities and government bodies must collaborate to create supportive environments prioritising well-being and acculturation. Initiatives such as language support services, mental health counselling, cultural integration activities, career development services and fairs, mentorship and internship programs can help international students feel welcomed, valued and supported during their Australian educational journey. Establishing dedicated helplines, counselling services and financial aid programs can provide crucial assistance during challenging times. In addition, clear and repetitive messaging of support programs and other relevant information is essential. Cross-cultural awareness training for institutional staff could also improve students’ learning experience. Importantly, employers should embrace international students as valuable assets to our workforce because their diverse backgrounds and perspectives bring fresh ideas, innovation and a global outlook. Furthermore, ensuring that international students can secure employment opportunities that match their interests, skills, and prior experience is crucial.

Embracing diversity allows Australia to tap into the immense potential that international students bring as their perspectives and experiences broaden our own and contribute to the collective success of our society. The significance of international students in Australia extends far beyond their economic contribution. They are an integral part of our cultural fabric and serve as bridges between nations, and we can do better.<

About the Author

Ritesh Chugh is an Associate Professor in Information and Communication Technologies at CQUniversity’s School of Engineering and Technology. He has received several awards and commendations recognising his teaching excellence and research activities. Ritesh received the 2022 Best Practice in International Education Award  from the International Education Association of Australia, Australia’s peak body for international education. He also received the 2022 Dean’s Award for outstanding researcher in the mid-career category at CQUniversity.  As one of the most prolific contributors to mainstream media at CQUniversity, he engages in public scholarship with the broader community, both nationally and internationally, on diverse socio-technology-related issues via popular media platforms. He has been interviewed multiple times on radio talkback shows and received media attention in many outlets such as The Age, The Australian, The Conversation, SBS, Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian for his work. Ritesh is an IEAA member and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA).

 Follow him on Twitter at @chugh_ritesh and Linkedin at @riteshchugh.

This article was last updated Tuesday, January 23, 2024. The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA).

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