International Students’ Department Presidential Debate: Ideas to Engage with International Students

On Thursday, the 21st of August, the International Students’ Department (ISD) held its own Presidential Debate. Five candidates are running this year for ISD President, but only the three ‘serious’ candidates participated in the debate and they are Faisal Syed, Arebelle Zhang and Haseeb Ikram. Syed, Zhang and Ikram are all Independents, not affiliated with any ANUSA tickets running in this year’s elections. Tara Shenoy, Editor-in-Chief of Woroni, was Chair of the debate.

The debate was an opportunity for each candidate to affirm their commitment to representing international students and to advocate for their needs. Each candidate showed similar perspectives when highlighting the challenges faced by international students. Haseeb Ikram described international students as being “highly misunderstood and vulnerable” due to marginalisation. Similarly, Arebelle Zhang noted that “most international students out there travel overseas alone for the first time and are anxious about what awaits them”.

All candidates affirm the role of ISD in helping international students though offering more services and informing international students about it them. Faisal Syed explained how as an international student first coming to the ANU he initially though that “there were not enough avenues for help” before realising that “there were avenues, but that I was not notified of them”. Ultimately, all candidates agreed that the ISD should be more active in engaging its constituency of five thousand international students.

Despite their solidarity in commitment to the ISD, candidates differed in their main ideas for improving the ISD’s advocacy and strategy for tackling issues surrounding international student engagement.

Undoubtedly, the boldest idea came from Faisal Syed who proposed an Off-Campus International Student Services (OCISS) to address the issue of integration into life at the ANU. OCISS would be based on the Griffin Hall ‘virtual hall’ model, and would help 48% of international students who live off of campus. In addition, it would have a network of Student Ambassadors that would act as OCISS ‘Senior Residents’ and would be located in suburbs of Canberra with a high concentration of international students. Nonetheless, students themselves had doubts over the plan with one audience member questioning the feasibility of such a program as “the logistics seem untenable”.

Haseeb Ikram argued for a greater presence for the ISD and to work hard with Student Experience to achieve this. Ikram also argued for the ISD to become a body that counters the ANU’s lack of transparency and accountability. Ikram notes that the ISD was not consulted with regard to the ANU’s decision to remove the 5% fee cap on course prices and increase in accommodation fees for international students. The lack of inclusion in the decision-making process proves Ikram’s point of international student marginalisation. Furthermore, Ikram argues that the increase in tuition and accommodation fees will only serve to further marginalise the international student committee.

Arebelle Zhang emphasised the need for better quality health care services at the ANU. Zhang stated that the university experience can be a difficult one for international students  as they must manage the “stress of concurrently dealing with their study work load, part-time work, social life and being alone and far away from family”. Zhang alleged that it is common to wait a week to get an appointment at the ANU Health Centre and up to three weeks for counseling sessions. Ikram, however, spoke to Zhang’s policies and argued that advocating for better health services is not “within the purview of the ISD”.

Finally, it is perhaps important to acknowledge that Professor Richard Baker, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Student Experience), attended the debate and and could be seen writing down good ideas that emerged from the discussion in his notebook. Whether or not the ANU will support the ideas of the future ISD President remains to be seen.