A top body that represents Australia's universities has accused both state and federal governments of ignoring warnings issued by it on problems faced by overseas students, including Indians, in the country.
Universities Australia, which represents 39 universities, said it had alerted governments to problems relating to student safety, poor-quality colleges, lack of concessions on public transport and immigration matters two years ago.
"It (Universities Australia) passed on to Australian authorities warnings from officials in China and India relating to student safety. It also conveyed student disenchantment resulting from a perception they were being treated like cash cows," The Age reported on Saturday.
The daily said Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard's office, Immigration Minister Chris Evans' office and Premier John Brumby's office were unable to confirm that the body had alerted them to such problems two years ago.
However, Universities Australia Chief Executive Glenn Withers said that he was disappointed as state and federal governments did not treat the problems as a priority when they were told about them two years ago but acted with urgency only when violent attacks on Indian students attracted intense media attention.
"We were disappointed that earlier warnings took the unfortunate development of street assaults to lead to the reforms that should have been in place already. We saw this two years ago as an issue, tried to transmit it to government and were meeting resistance," he told the newspaper.
Withers said Universities Australia expressed a desire to work with the Coalition of Australian Governments to tackle problems in the vocational training sector that were likely to adversely affect the higher education sector but was not taken seriously.
"We were told basically, 'This is not a matter for you, you are a concern of the Commonwealth and have no place at our table,'" he said.
"We were warning: 'Look it's a reputational issue, it's a brand Australia issue, please let us work with you'. The states weren't interested in listening. I think they thought they could just ride this industry to their benefit without worrying about their role in any serious way."
He said Universities Australia had also raised concerns over the link between international education and immigration with the Federal Government.
The Federal Government, was so "enamoured of short-term labour market convenience [to] employers" that it did not listen when Universities Australia said immigration should be part of long-term national development, he said.
"Permanent migration should not have been skewed for those purposes. They realised that and began to repair it, but too late," he said.