Alarms raised on crime against Chinese students

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 August, 2008, 12:00am

Australian education representatives have sought to play down reports that Chinese students studying in Sydney are encountering high levels of crime.

Yet China's consulate in Sydney is reported to have asked the authorities to do more to protect Chinese students in the city, which is Australia's most populous.

The problem seems confined to Sydney. A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Canberra said the issue was being handled at the consular level in Sydney.

'The education secretary of the consulate in Sydney gave a briefing to new Chinese students about managing their security,' he said.

He was unaware of any requests regarding more security being made at higher levels.

The education consul, Zhou Bo, at a security briefing for newly arrived students last week, listed incidents involving students from China including robberies, assaults and burglaries, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

There are more than 400,000 international students in Australia, with China accounting for about a quarter of them, said Quentin Stevenson-Perks, education counsellor at the Australian embassy in Beijing.

Speaking at the annual Australian Education Festival, which ends today at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, he said there was no evidence Chinese students in Australia were any more likely to suffer from criminal acts than other members of the community.

'We encourage students to get out there and take part in the communities in which they are living,' Mr Stevenson-Perks said. 'You do everything you can to ensure their safety, but we can't wrap them in cotton wool.'

China was the most important education market and the number of students it was sending to Australia had more than doubled in four years.

He suspected the increase in incidents was probably a result of there simply being more Chinese students in Australia.

Education is Australia's third largest export after coal and iron ore, and as such it was in the country's best interests to safeguard visiting students, he added.

'We can't afford to get it wrong,' Mr Stevenson-Perks said. 'And, broadly, we don't.'

Certainly the students perusing the exhibits of the 64 schools vying for enrolments at the education festival showed little fear about going to Australia.

'I'm not too concerned,' said Josie Ng, who was looking for a university in either Sydney or Melbourne. 'My brother and sister are both still studying in Sydney and they have never mentioned any problems.'

Her friend Kimmie Fearnside said she had also considered going to university in Australia, but her family had better links with Britain.

Michelle Clarke, associate director of international admissions at Sydney University, said the risks for Chinese students were no more than those faced by anyone else living in a large city.

'Students are at risk of all the normal things that can happen in a city,' Ms Clarke said.

'I am not aware of any particular spate of incidents. Our view at the moment is that no particular cohort is at any more risk than another.'

The university had lots of facilities to ensure the health and security of its students, including financial support and an international student assistance unit that could be approached about any problems.

Most institutions catering to international students have similar safeguards in place.

Australian consul general to Hong Kong Les Luck said Australia remained the number one destination for Chinese students. 'It remains one of the safest countries in the world,' he said.