Despite widespread protests and criticism over the alleged racial attacks, for Indian students Australia remains a big draw when it comes to international education, according to members of an Australian delegation visiting India these days.
"Education trade to Australia is over $15 billion and it is growing at a good pace. There are many factors that make Australia a most sought after destination for Indian students," Colin Walters, leader of the delegation and the chief executive officer (CEO) of Australian Education International (AEI), told IANS.
"This year, the number of inquiries for admission have also increased by four times," he added.
Walters said that ten years back, only 10,000 Indian students were enrolled in Australia but last year this figure rose to 100,000.
Of the total 100,000 Indian students studying in Australia, boys form the majority at around 67,000, he said.
Around 500,000 international students are studying in Australia at present.
About the racial attacks, Walters said: "We have not got any direct evidence that these attacks were racial. They can happen anywhere, no police in the world can give 100 percent guarantee of your safety."
"It was not racial as only Indian males were specifically targeted and not females. It is because they usually travel late at night, stay at far away suburbs from their work place or college. They also carry expensive equipments like laptops, mobile phones and i-pods that make them more prone to such attacks," pointed out Walters.
He said the delegation members have cleared the doubts of worried parents and education consultants by meeting them during their visit.
Over 50 Indian students have been injured in attacks in Australian cities, most of them being in and around Melbourne, in the last few months. Around 46,000 Indian students stay in Melbourne and in adjoining areas.
"Though there is no visible dip in the interest of Indian students, we still want to assure them that they can come here to study with a free mind as the Australian police is doing everything to make the environment safe and cordial for them. Most of the culprits have been arrested and produced before the court," Tony Zalewski, CEO of the Australian Institute of Public Safety, told IANS.
He added, "Most of the offenders are young street robbers and their main motive was robbery or property theft. These attacks were not racist, the only thing was that Indian students happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time."
"We are taking the help of forensic science experts, getting infra-red images of the streets and have installed secret CCTV cameras there," he added.
The delegation is on a 10-day visit to India, July 6-15, and has visited eight cities including Ahmedabad, New Delhi, Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore.
The delegation's visit has boosted the morale of overseas education consultants and parents.
"We understand that these attacks can happen anywhere and are happy that the Australian government is taking this issue seriously. That is why they have sent a delegation to India to reassure us about the safety of our kids," Jarnail Singh Sandhu, a farmer based in Zirakpur in Punjab, told IANS.
"My son is studying hotel management at Carrick Institute in Melbourne. Initially we were planning to call him back but now we have changed our decision," said Sandhu.
Punita Gill, a parent, whose two daughters are studying in Sydney, told IANS, "I have myself talked to the members of the delegation and it seems that things have started improving. I talked to my daughters over the phone; they also told me that there is nothing to worry about and that things have become quite normal there."
"These attacks happened during the peak admission time and there was a dip in the number of students applying for Australian institutes for sometime, but that phase is over now," said Atul Malhotra, owner of a leading immigration consultancy in Punjab.
Punjab is certainly an important place for Australia as 40 percent of Indian students studying there are from this region.