Views of an Australian professor

Prof. Isaac Balbin is a programme director and professor at the school of computer science and IT at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.
A regular visitor to India and a mentor to lots of overseas education seekers in India, Prof. Balkin expresses his views about the recent incidences in Australia.
As @Asfaq terms it, this is one of the most sensible & practical posts we have yet read about the issue.
This post was originally published in Indian Express (found via @Asfaq)

I have frequently visited India and have mentored Indian students for over two decades. I have supervised 11 Indian postgraduate research theses. Recent events compel me to pen these words.

The easiest part of my visits to India is convincing good students to join my school’s well-regarded programmes. My central aim is to speak with better students and offer these partial scholarships so that our school continues to flourish, and they may become global leaders in their profession. Indians proudly value quality education and the international experience.

I confess: I love India. I love the people. There is much goodwill and diversity and I am always treated with reverential respect. I have sat with family members and discussed their children’s prospects; I have always given an honest appraisal of their child’s suitability for overseas study. I am not a salesman. I advise with both a professorial and parental hat firmly on my head. Also, I have a keen perspective on racism, as I am visibly Jewish and the son of Holocaust survivors. People of my faith have been persecuted since their beginnings.

To be sure, there were times when I was not able to travel to Ahmedabad because of religious violence, and warned to avoid questionable Indian taxi drivers because foreigners had been robbed, murdered or abducted. I commonly read press warnings to female Indian university students about the possibility of rape upon returning to Delhi hostels in the evening. Pockets of violence are an unfortunate abnormity of our world, but my overall perspective, however, was and remains one of confidence and contentment.

I sojourned at Nariman House exactly 2 weeks before terrorists in cosmopolitan Mumbai murdered my good friends, Rabbi and Mrs Holtzberg. I saw the bullet-riddled and bloodied room that I had slept in. I frequented the Taj Hotel in Mumbai. In Melbourne I spoke and wrote about these events and my comments were reported in the Australian Parliament; they continue to shake my core. I know I will return to Mumbai soon, but this time, apart from the psychological trauma induced by that memory, I will have anxious parents asking me whether they should send their beloved to study in Melbourne, or indeed any other city in Australia.

It is counterproductive to generalise about Australians in the same way that it is counterproductive to generalise about Indians. Indian students in Australia are not all the same. Some are serious and highly motivated, seeking international educational excellence; some are opportunists who knowingly enrol in programs from nefarious institutions and whose primary concern is to find a way, any way, to stay in Australia. This second type of student can sometimes be seen congregating in centre of cities as if they have little to do — that is, until they commence night-time employment as taxi drivers, cleaners, guards or door-to-door salespeople. It is demeaning. Why do it? Students should come for real educations by all means, stay if they choose by all means — Australia is in need of qualified professionals — but “purchasing” paper diplomas is not a sound aim.

Some sober realities:

  • Australia is a great and relatively safe country with an exemplary but currently challenged police force. I consider it the multi-cultural success story of the world. Melbourne, in particular, is a rich tapestry of culture and tolerance.
  • There is a real problem with some members of “Generation Y”, especially in certain suburbs. This may relate to a lack of proper parenting, drugs and alcohol. One should not assume they are “white Anglo-Saxon Aussies.” They do not go after Indians per se, in my estimation. Rather, of late, if they identify someone as a “vulnerable target” they have exercised unjustified and mindless violence. Ironically, one member of a gang was himself clearly from the sub-continent and involved in perpetrating recent train violence against an Indian. Idiocy knows no racial boundaries.
  • Australians care. When a young Anglo-Saxon father came to the aid of someone in distress in the dead of night he was stabbed and later died. Where are those perpetrators? They immediately fled to Thailand. It is easy to guess their origin. We don’t blame their country per se. There are rotten eggs everywhere. To blame a people or besmirch a city can be construed as reverse racism.
  • Some student agents in the sub-continent are irresponsible. They send students overseas when they are well aware that the students don’t have the intellectual capacity and/or the parents don’t have the financial capacity. They make unpardonable promises that students can work (almost full time) to pay both their living and tuition fees. These agents should be exposed and marginalised.

It is great that Indian students protested both last night and this morning, but I think that they should not have done so solely as Indian students. Let’s stop the mindless sensationalising. There is a problem, yes. I am equally confident that this is a transient issue that will pass, perhaps even quicker than swine flu. Let’s enhance cooperation, not work against it. I’d like it if more local students spend a semester in India, at least performing quality work integrated learning. Are there any companies out there who are listening? This will help to further bilateral cultural exchange and mutual understanding.

In summary, this issue is primarily one of delinquency. It is not about a particular race. Surely, we are well past the spat between Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds?

I can only speak for myself but I live in a wonderful, unique, multi-cultural, exciting and friendly melting pot. As a father of five children, two of whom have studied overseas, I am confident that any student who studies here will be in an environment that gushes tolerance and oozes love and respect. I will personally continue to “look after” any student that knocks on my door, be they Indian or otherwise. My campus has had, thankfully, close to zero incidents and we endeavour to keep it that way. This issue will pass if we stick together, forcefully and effectively, but without unnecessary rancour and aggressive finger pointing.