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Apr 19, 2013

Yes Alan, do think very seriously about student numbers

Yes, Alan Jones should think very seriously about international students, writes Meld editor-in-chief Karen Poh. And the damage his words do to our reputation overseas.

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Oh, Alan Jones …

If it weren’t a stretch of the imagination enough to suggest that the Boston Marathon bombings were linked to “left-wing radical students”, he took it a step further, pointing an accusing finger at Australia’s international student community. Jones told Sunrise from his 2GB studio:

“I think what we have to remember about Boston is that it’s a student city, you’ve got Harvard, MIT and a stack of other colleges. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a conspiracy among students, left-wing radical students in Boston, and I think we have to think also very seriously here about our own student numbers. We are very keen to have foreign students pay the way of universities in this country without a lot of discernment about who comes in.”

Yes, we will need to think very seriously about our student numbers.

The international education sector represents Australia’s fourth-largest export industry. International education activities accounts for more than $15 billion of export income annually. This revenue supports more than 100,000 jobs. And with some 80% of international students hailing from Asia, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Australia’s future in the Asian Century will be shaped by the way we think about and engage the international student community.

As we gauged the reactions yesterday in the wake of Jones’ embarrassing comments at Meld, the foreign students magazine I edit, I was reminded of the Chinese saying: “Good news stays at home, bad news spreads a thousand miles.” Would Jones’ words hurt Australia’s reputation as a study destination of choice?

A student told us his parents wouldn’t dream of shipping their children off to a country where they weren’t welcome. Just look at what happened after the spate of violent attacks against Indian students in Australia in 2009. Enrolments fell. Drastically.

“I would say I’m personally insulted, but I don’t think people take what he says that seriously,” the student said. I’m glad to hear that. Common sense does prevail.

Seven has sought to downplay the incident. Speaking to The Australian, Seven spokesman Simon Francis said a range of views were regularly canvassed on the program and that Jones was but one of a number of independent commentators on Sunrise. But whose opinion is really worth seeking?

Not the opinion of someone who is known to speak before he thinks and takes no responsibility for what he says. Not the opinion of the man who is unable to grasp that people-to-people relationships form not just the fabric of society, but also drive economic outcomes in a globalised world.

If bad news travels a thousand miles, I’m grateful that in this digital age we have the unprecedented opportunity to redeem ourselves. New and emerging media, independent online news outlets, blogs and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have not just opened up a true plethora of views, but also knocked down pedestals and given the public a chance to respond and show the rest of the world a glimpse of what we as a community really stand for.

The online backlash that Jones has faced is a reminder that his views are not representative of the majority of the Australian community and should simply be ignored.

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