A Wagga international student has questioned whether regional areas can support more international students under the NSW Premier’s push to ease population concerns.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian proposed a plan to incentivise international students to study higher education in the regions to relieve infrastructure and population pressure in the capital cities.
Charles Sturt University PhD student Forough Ataollahi, from Iran, said there needs to be a plan put in place for how regional areas can accommodate more people, before a proposal can be made.
“I believe regional university areas are a great place to study and work at, but it ultimately depends on the course that is being studied,” Mrs Ataollahi said.
“When I checked universities, I realised that CSU had a really good research group in this area and that’s why CSU was my first option.
“If you want to have more international students in regional areas, then first there should be a plan to see how this can be possible before international students are asked to come here.”
Mrs Ataollahi has been studying in Wagga since July 2015 and said initially it was a challenge fitting in.
“At first I did feel lonely because I didn’t know anybody and understanding the accent was a challenge, but when I found a friend here and engaged with society, it was really like my home, because I understood the culture,” she said.
“When my husband moved here, finding employment was also a challenge as there are not too much employment opportunities in the regional areas as opposed to the cities.”
As president of the international club at CSU, Mrs Ataollahi said there were over 70 international students apart of the club in Wagga but argued that regional funding would need to increase in order to see more attend.
“With my experience as a postgraduate in conducting research, I don’t believe that there is enough research funding in regional universities to have many international students,” she said.
“Also whether the infrastructure in regional areas could accommodate more people, for example would Wagga Base Hospital, with more international students, have enough resources if there was a problem?
Mrs Ataollahi argued that because international students are paying higher tuition fees, they should have access to a range of resources.
“In bigger or city universities, students have opportunities to learn more as they can engage with other researchers,” she said.
“The equipment of universities is also another issue here; if there is one machine for 10 students that means we need to wait, but in big universities I know they have bigger equipment and more students.
“This means that they have better management and structure because they have averaged it out over the high number of students.”
Mrs Ataollahi has been successful in securing a position with the Department of Industries and will continue living in Wagga for the foreseeable future.
CSU’s vice-chancellor Andrew Vann welcomed the premier’s proposed plan but said encouraging students to attend non-metropolitan universities to ease population concerns should not be the sole driver.
“Regionally-based higher education offers supportive learning, higher teacher-student ratios, and the majority of students get the opportunity to gain industry experience throughout their degree,” Professor Vann said.
“One third of Australia’s population lives outside of the cities and the regions offer access to amenities, housing affordability, a lack of traffic congestion, a range of industries and entrepreneurship opportunities.”
In response to concerns over whether infrastructure in regional areas could accommodate more students, Professor Vann said the government must support long-term investment.
“With more students and families in the regions, the government must support the long-term infrastructure required to grow economic development: housing, health, transport links between regional and metropolitan centres, and jobs,” he said.
“Institutions and the government have responsibility for marketing our regional cities and communities, actively communicating the benefits students can receive by studying at a non-metropolitan university.”