AUSTRALIA'S more than 60,000 fee-paying students from overseas face racism on campus, but there has been a lack of awareness of the problem and too little done about it, Australia's Race Discrimination Commissioner has warned. Zita Antonios says the lack of research on racism in tertiary institutions is a symptom of this lack of awareness. But the research which has been done reveals a depressing picture. A 1993 study found a high proportion of Australian university students held racist views towards people of Asian backgrounds, with more than half saying Australia should take most of its migrants from Europe and North America, not Asia, and almost 60 per cent believing Asians were the main targets for racism. Ms Antonios, whose job includes enforcing Australia's anti-racism laws and working to eliminate racism, says recently several universities have taken important steps in combating racism and she hopes this will begin a nationwide trend. These steps include publication of an anti-racist handbook called Racism Sux by Sydney University, the launch last week of a pilot anti-racism campaign at the University of New South Wales and ground-breaking anti-racism strategies at the University of New England, in the New South Wales country town of Armidale. Ms Antonios told Campus Post: 'If we expect overseas students to come to this country to learn and we benefit from that economically, we cannot possibly tolerate racism; apart from all the moral reasons not to, it does not make economic sense. 'Racism can be overstated and one should steer clear of generalisations because it varies from place to place. But in some of the more rural or regional areas of Australia the problem might be worse than some of the urban ones.' The University of New England (UNE), where there are more than 3,000 overseas-born students representing more than 80 countries, is tackling these problems with ground-breaking work under the auspices of its Equal Opportunity Unit manager Muyesser Durer. She says if a university is committed to valuing its social and cultural diversity, it must have policies and guidelines on what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. In May, the university held a seminar to work out such strategies and to launch its booklet Straight Talk, which aims to encourage staff and students to think about the language they use and provides guidelines on avoiding discrimination. The booklet, an Australian first, covers disability and gender as well as racism. In the section on racism it warns against stereotyping, drawing attention to a person's ethnic background, derogatory labelling and racial slurs. At the UNE seminar Ms Antonios said the lack of research meant most evidence of racism on campus was anecdotal, but a few students, administrative and academic staff had complained to her under the Racial Discrimination Act that they felt so aggrieved. The complaints included one from a highly qualified academic who spoke excellent English with the accent of his home country in Asia. He was told by his vice-chancellor when he arrived that he might wish to have speech therapy. Ms Antonios says prejudice on campus takes a number of forms including prejudice by teachers and administrators against those from non-English speaking backgrounds and racist feelings and behaviour by local students towards those from overseas for supposedly taking an unfair share of resources and local people's places. Racism could take blatant forms such as verbal harassment and graffiti - one student had to endure cartoons vilifying his background pinned on notice boards - or more subtle forms, such as selection procedures. She criticised the lack of channels for students to have the issue taken up and called for grievance procedures emphasising conciliation to be set up on campus and for education programmes. 'Silence and denial are fundamental to racism. 'People who are subjected to racial discrimination have often been silent about what has happened,' she said. 'Many have come to believe that racism is inevitable or at least unavoidable. 'And those who practise racism have been inclined to deny its existence or not admit or recognise their own racist behaviour. At the UNE the May seminar led to numerous suggestions for countering racism which the university plans to put into effect - making students more aware of other cultures, quick removal of graffiti and discussions on communication problems.