Here’s another statistical feather to Australia’s cap: Australia has been ranked number 1 by the World Economic Forum for closing the gender gap on educational attainment. No ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ about it, it’s a ranking we can truly be proud of, a ranking that could attract more dollars, oops, female students, to our successful international education industry. Yet, as they say, with great success comes great responsibility. While success in international education continues to be equated in dollar terms (16.3 billion in 2010-2011), we can and should define our responsibility to international students beyond educational outcomes.
Much has already been said of the international students’ lot: lack of affordable accommodation; restrictions on work rights; lack of transport concessions; experiences of, and vulnerability to, racism, discrimination and violence; and the need for greater access to services and support. Add to this what our research has found: if you’re a female international student and happen to fall pregnant during the first twelve months of your stay, your mandatory health insurance does not cover you for any pregnancy-related costs (except in cases of emergency). And you thought that growing HECs debt was a problem. Imagine, for a moment, the choices of a full fee paying female student who finds herself in such a dire situation. Access to health services, including accessibility to contraception and abortion, has always been strongly linked to affordability. Unplanned pregnancies are just that: unplanned. Whatever the reason for the pregnancy, every choice available, whether it’s ante-natal care or abortion, should be made a feasible and accessible option for all women. If you’re a newly-arrived international student trying to make ends meet, your options are limited.
As one student told us, ‘I’m paying $13,000 per semester and I study for three semesters. The health cover I get is $700 … and the health cover is limited to only some health diagnoses … people coming from overseas aren’t rich. They are coming to get a living.’ Indeed, the international student population is generally a youthful lot who come to live, work, study and sometimes, maybe, fall in love. Or not. Things happen. International students are no different to Australian-born students when it comes to living life. So why are there restrictions on their right to access sexual and reproductive health care?