Listening to policy specialist Michael Wesley, university administrator Margaret Gardner and others caught up in the debate over the international education industry in Australia, the frenzy whipped up by students from India about racism against them might not be all that it's cracked up to be.
While Gardner, vice-chancellor of RMIT University in Melbourne, is in broad agreement with Wesley on the root causes of the problems putting at risk Australia's third-largest export earner, she and others point as a factor to a regulatory shift going back eight years that elevates the impetus for skilled migrants to come to Australia.
Which changes the complexion of the debate about an industry that earns Australia more than A$15 billion a year, third in value only after coal and iron ore.
Wesley, in a study of international education, raises the spectre of the increasing "marketisation" of higher education, pressing for an image makeover with implications that go beyond education.
The spotlight Gardner throws on immigration flies in the face of positive views of Australia's past in its contribution to developing nations - Malaysia foremost among them - that Wesley acknowledges of the Colombo Plan of the 1950s.
Gardner's assertion takes the debate to questions of the morality of brain drain from source countries, and the distinction that needs to be made in defining "student".
In many ways, the students Wesley refers to are unrecognisable from those whom Gardner talks about.
Which would explain the bemusement of any Malaysian caught up in the debate sparked by the bad press Australia's international education industry has attracted over the past three months, particularly in India.
This came after a spate of violence in Melbourne and Sydney against students from India, leading to allegations of racism.
Racism? Malaysians - from Malaysian Students Department Australia director Dr Mohamed Nasir Abu Hassan to student leaders in Melbourne - have no such concerns.
Still, the implications for Australia's international reputation - beyond education - alarmed Wesley, director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney.
He wrote a policy brief setting out the problem and the costs to Australia, recommending measures to restore the reputation of an institution founded on the Colombo Plan.
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