International students

A quick scan around any of the Monash University campuses today – whether it be the lecture theatres or campus centres – reveals in an instant the reality that Monash is a university with a strong international and multi-cultural presence. Everything, from the many languages that can be heard spoken around the campus to the different types of food available from the shops and vending machines, highlights the impact that students from all over the world have had on Monash. What many staff, students and visitors to the campus today may not realise is how strong this history of international students at Monash actually is.

From its foundation days Monash University has welcomed international students. In fact, the first international student enquiry was received in August 1960, before the University had even opened its doors to students. At the time the enquiry was received, the Interim Council decided that no overseas student would be admitted for the academic year of 1961 unless they met the same entry requirements as Australian or local students – they had to be able to apply to the University of Melbourne as a result of qualifications gained at the Victorian Learning and Matriculation Examinations. Clearly, this would not be possible. However, it was not long before it became slightly more practical for international students to be permitted entry to Monash University.

In the early 1960s Monash University was one of several Australian tertiary institutions that sponsored Colombo Plan students to study in Australia. The Colombo Plan was initiated in January 1950 specifically to encourage the flow of aid from various countries, including Australia, to developing countries in South and Southeast Asia. Allowing students from these countries to enrol in tertiary institutions in Australia was considered to be one of the ways that aid could be provided. In 1962 seven students enrolled at Monash under the Colombo Plan. Just five years later, this number had already increased to 103.

As early as 1964 there were over 200 overseas students studying at the University. Almost ten years later, in 1973, there were over 600 international students enrolled at Monash, the majority of these students coming from Asian countries, such as Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.

International presence in Engineering

The Faculty of Engineering was eager to welcome overseas students. In 1968 the Faculty willingly increased its quota for Colombo Plan students from six to twelve. Colombo Plan students were not the only international students applying to Monash. Around the same time, an increasing number of ‘private’ students from Asian countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia and India, were also choosing to study engineering at Monash. Interestingly during a meeting of the Faculty Board it was noted that Colombo Plan students increasingly performed better than private Asian students.

By the end of the 1960s, international students made up almost 13 per cent of the total enrolments in the Faculty of Engineering. Engineering’s first female graduate, Njoman Soelaksmi was also the first female international student to study engineering. Soelaksmi was from Bali, Indonesia. She did her final year in Electrical Engineering and completed her thesis project "Pseudo random signal testing" under the supervision of Bill Brown in 1967, and graduated at the ceremony in 1968.

International student numbers continued to grow steadily, both at Monash and within the Faculty. Overseas student enrolments reached their peak in the Faculty in the early 1980s. By 1984 there were 639 international students enrolled in engineering, making up 41.1 per cent of all enrolments in the Faculty.

A matter for debate

During the 1980s discussions were taking place on a national level about the best policy for Australia with regard to international students. As the Colombo Plan began to wind down, a system of student visas was introduced. International students could apply and pay for these visas (at a cost of around $6000 AUD) and would be treated the same as local students with regards to places in education institutions. Debates centred around the concept of education as aid, which was the fundamental premise for allowing students to study at Australian universities under the banner of the Colombo Plan. There was also dialogue around education as trade and the associated economic gains.

This debate was also taking place within Monash University, particularly in Engineering. Lance Endersbee, Dean of Engineering at the time, brought the issue to the top of the Faculty’s agenda. In 1982 he proposed that the quota for first year engineering students be broken up into 80 places for international students and 300 places for domestic students. Endersbee argued that something like 80 per cent domestic and 20 per cent international was what he perceived to be a balanced and desirable student intake. According to the Dean, there was a need to restrict the number of international students because Australian students were missing out on places.

Endersbee raised his concerns about the ‘balance’ between international and Australian born or local students at a time when there was a general increase in the number of international students as well as an increase in the cut-off scores for entry into Monash, which gave weight to Endersbee’s argument – it did appear that local students were missing out on places. However, there was strong opposition to Endersbee’s idea. A 20 per cent quota on international students in 1982 would reduce the number of international students in the Faculty by 50 per cent. Those who disagreed with limiting the number of international students argued that Monash should be focused on accepting the best students, regardless of where they came from. International students protested against the University’s decision to reduce places for international engineering students, arguing that the quota was discrimination boarding on racism. Endersbee responded that he was not a racist but a ‘realist’. There was a considerable amount of disquiet.

In 1984, Charles Sinclair from the Department of Chemical Engineering gave the graduation address to engineering students. To them he said, ‘the emergence of Asia as a major centre of economic growth is a development of great importance for Australia’. However, at the time, there was little being done within the University or the Faculty that reflected this. Discussion and debate about Australia’s policy on international students culminated that year in the publication of two reports into international students in Australian universities: the Goldring Report and the Jackson Report. These reports were commissioned by the Australian Government to investigate foreign affairs, overseas students and the development of Commonwealth aid policies. The Goldring Report argued for the continuation of aid and a subsidised education scheme for international students. The Jackson Report argued the complete opposite, recommending the introduction of unlimited full-fee paying places for international students, outlining all the economic benefits to the Australian economy.

Despite the arguments put forward in the Goldring Report, it seemed that Monash, and the Australian Government, did not agree. The University Council supported Endersbee in his proposal to reduce places for international students. By 1985 the University Council and Professorial Board ratified the limitation of international places within the Bachelor of Engineering to between 25 and 30 per cent of the student intake. That same year Monash University also established guidelines for full-fee paying international students. By 1989 full-fee places for international students were introduced nationally, replacing the system of student visas.

Full-fees and beyond

The introduction of full-fee paying places for international students at Monash University did not result in an immediate decrease in student numbers. High numbers of international enrolments within the Faculty of Engineering were still recorded in the late 1980s. However, by the early 1990s numbers had plummeted to less than 10 per cent of the entire student enrolment within Engineering. This decrease in student numbers coincided with the merger between Monash University, Chisholm Institute of Technology and Gippsland College, which caused disruption and decrease in both international and local student numbers across the three campuses within engineering.

Nevertheless international student numbers soon increased again. In an address to the Faculty in 1992, then Dean Peter Darvall noted that the demand for full-fee paying overseas places was strong and that the funding derived from this source was ‘irresistible’. By the mid-1990s over 10 per cent of the Faculty of Engineering’s budget came from full-fee paying international students.

The late 1990s saw a renewed interest in international student relations with the development of the Sunway Campus in Malaysia. During his time as Dean, Darvall helped create the position of Associate Dean (International). One of the functions/responsibilities of this role was the promotion of international engagement by the Faculty and its staff, in order to establish and consolidate Monash University’s place as an international university. However, it was not until Tam Sridhar became Dean in 2003 that the position really started being utilised to its fullest potential.

It was in early 2003 that Monash began discussions with China that led to the development the twin 2+2 program. Sridhar, together with Bill Young who was then Head of Civil Engineering, travelled to China to negotiate the program. Sridhar was careful to choose people for the role of Associate Dean (International) who had a background in countries in which the Faculty had an interest in. His first two appointments had a Chinese background. After he established the twinning program with Central South University and Wuhan University in China, Sridhar turned his attentions to India. The recent establishment of the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB)-Monash University Research Academy in Bombay has helped strengthen relations between Monash University and India.

Engineering at Monash continues to attract strong numbers of international students. In recent years international full-fee paying students have made up around 30 per cent of enrolments within the Faculty. Once the switch was made from education aid, like the Colombo Plan, to full-fee paying places, the international student numbers initially decreased in the early 1990s and then increased again. However, it was not until the year 2000 that international student numbers in Engineering reached the same levels they had been in the mid-1980s.


(Updated Jun 9, 2011) Printed on: