Foreign students facing racism on campus is not a new phenomenon, but recent events show that it is clearly, and correctly, being recognised as unacceptable. In a possible first, students in Sydney have formed vigilante groups to protect themselves against racially-inspired hooliganism. The local police is doing its best to disassociate the attacks on Indians from any racial overtones. Yet, it is clear that the options offered by the police as measures of protection (carry a fake wallet, don’t carry mobile phones) are distractions from the real issue. Many of us are unlikely to recall the murder of a medical student in St. Petersburg last September. The incident made it to the news only after students and faculty took out protest marches to bring the matter to the authorities’ attention. But there too, the police had tried its best to pass the murder off as a freak case of hooliganism that had nothing to do with racism. Yet, foreign students were advised to move only in groups and stay indoors after dark.
The expansion of higher education opportunities abroad has led to students forming the largest group of temporary migrants across the world. As more and more nations woo young people to opt for higher education in their country, the movement of students has acquired a new vibrancy. Alas, many of them have also had to face the hostility of disruptive local elements. While it is true that granting students admission does not mean that a university or country will guarantee protection, host countries must remember that, as in any other trade, an inhospitable climate and racial crime will only lead to cities, campuses or countries getting blacklisted by students when deciding upon their university/ country of study.
To that end, the onus here lies with governments to train the local police and sensitise them to the dynamics of multi-culturalism. That is the very point the vigilante groups are making. The Sydney incident should be an eye-opener for every country which aspires to draw more students into its educational fold.