Bridging the divide

Written by Garima Pant | Updated: Sep 27 2009, 05:31am hrs
Prof Peter Hoj

Its a rare admission from an Australian educationist, but does bring forward one of the prime reasons behind the inability of the Australian authorities to curb the attacks on the Indian students in Australia. Professor Peter Hj, Vice-Chancellor, University of South Australia says that the Australian administrators and policy makers condemned the attacks. But he also admitted that the Australian capabilities were stretched to its limits because of the rapid growth in the number of Indian students in his country.

Violence, including attacks with machetes and knives, has risen by a third in the past year, damaging Australias reputation and threatening an education industry worth A$15.5 billion ($13.4 billion) in earnings from teaching overseas students, the third-largest source of foreign income. India supplies 19% of all foreign students in Australia, second only to China. There were 81,520 Indians enrolled in full-fee education in Australia in April, up 38% from 58,917 a year earlier, and a seven-fold gain from the 11,364 students in 2002, according to data from the Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

The increase has put a lot of stress on our facilities and has given rise to a need to re-look at the number of Indian students, he adds. Hj also admitted that the growth was too rapid and it was getting difficult to provide the extra security blanket to the students. He explained that as a substantial number of Indian students were undertaking less-expensive courses, but also working longer hours, it was becoming difficult for the authorities to give them the right protection. But he also hopes that a re-look at the screening process will help solve the issue.

Hj was in town to inaugurate the Indian arm of the International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding, located at the University of South Australia. The centre was launched with an aim to improve the understanding of the Muslim world. Former Australian Prime Minister

Bob Hawke was the inspiration behind the centre that has already attracted $10 million in funding from the Australian and South Australian Governments.

The centre will be dedicated to research that seeks to define, understand and transcend the divide between Muslim and non-Muslim cultures and attract research engagement from India and the Asian region. We want to make sure that the role of the centre is not confined just to academics but also translates into changing attitudes towards the Muslim world, says Hj. The centre will work closely with the Australia-India Business Council to support mutual trade and investment. It will also provide consultancies on issues of national priority, host international conferences, community engagement and have cultural dialogues.

Hj, enamoured by Indian democracy, believes that India is one of the best places to start this centre outside Australia. We want to tap into the scholarly capacity that India has from its enormous social laboratory, says Hj.

Hj is also hoping that Indian candidates would apply for the 10 doctorate scholarships worth nearly a million rupees the centre is offering and disseminate the knowledge offered and work on our common problems. For a country that is still struggling to come to terms with its attitude towards the Aborigines population,an attempt to bridge the gap between the muslim and the non-muslim population will be an initiative to be closely looked at.