By Michiel Baas
This chapter analyses how a neoliberal masculine logic permeates discussion of Australia’s “education industry” and associated skilled migration program. Indian students play a key role in this. It is generally agreed that the initial phenomenal growth in terms of their enrolment numbers (2002-2009) was fueled by the opportunity to apply for permanent residency after completion of studies. After a series of violent and racist attacks on Indian students in 2009 and the closing of a significant number of substandard colleges which primarily catered to Indian students, enrolments declined rapidly.
In particular the attacks led to a fierce discussion in Australian media whether or not they were in fact racist in nature and whether or not Australia was a racist nation. Within this discussion, the validity of Indian students’ claims of racism was gradually mitigated; the attacks were construed as opportunistic as Indian students were considered “soft targets” or “weak prey” whose own behavior (traveling home late at night from poorly paying part-time jobs, drawing attention to themselves by talking loudly on their phones, living in far-off and low-rent neighborhoods) contributed to their vulnerability to violent crime. It was further highlighted that the majority of Indian students were enrolled in so-called “dodgy” colleges that primarily to the desire for PR.
In mainstream media these developments were framed in a particular language that linked the predicaments of (male) Indian students with “industry”-related concerns that spoke to even larger, nation-spanning ones. “Them” being male played a significant factor in this as it allowed their intentions to be contrasted with the inherently neoliberal and deeply masculine logic (and intentions) of the skilled migration program and education industry. The neoliberal logic that underpins this process of othering is fueled by conflicting notions of masculinity that reference and rest on assumptions about the self and the other.
The self here needs to be thought of as a shorthand for the interplay between the Australian economy, its cities and “local” job markets, as well as its skilled migration program (SMP) and “education industry.” Australia’s SMP is the product of concerns over an ageing population, competitiveness within the (Asia-Pacific) region, and skill shortages locally. The country’s SMP directly sources a significant portion of its “new” migrants from the large number of international students who study in Australia. With their ever-growing numbers Indian students then form a highly visible presence in Australian cities, putting pressure on local infrastructure and posing challenges to the multicultural makeup. Meanwhile Australian universities have become highly dependent on the fees brought in by international students and the “education industry” itself has become vitally important source of jobs and revenue for local economies.
The other here is the quintessential international/Indian student who comes to Australia on a temporary basis but might stay on permanently. While the Australian self here references systems or programs that are by and large guided by neoliberal market principles, controlled/adjusted by policy and speak to national interests and concerns, the other is an unpredictable individual (an Indian student migrant) whose intentions might not always run in tandem with what the system or a particular program is supposed to “produce.”
Although Indian students were initially welcomed as international students and potential migrants they were gradually reduced to an essentialized unwanted other. “Them” being male played a significant factor in this as it allowed their intentions to be contrasted with the inherently neoliberal and deeply masculine logic (and intentions) of the skilled migration program and education industry. As such Indian students came to stand for the failure of the skilled migration program and education industry to generate the right kind of student migrant and, eventually, permanent resident or even citizen.
Baas, M., (2017) ‘The Neoliberal Masculine Logic: Skilled Migration, International Students, and the Indian “Other” in Australia’ In Stahl, G., Nelson, D., & Wallace, D. (Eds.), Masculinity and Aspiration in an Era of Neoliberal Education: International Perspectives. Routledge, New York.
Michiel Baas, Ph.D. is a Research Fellow with the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore.
Categories: Sociology of Education