New names but same game for rogue international student group

Representatives from the Overseas Students Association were removed from campus this month, in the latest in what appears to be an attempted revival of the discredited organisation.

While on campus, the representatives told international students that the OSA and their “legislative branch”, the National Liaison Committee, could assist student with a number of concerns, including high tuition fees, poor attendance, and personal safety issues. They assured students that the OSA was endorsed by the University, and directed them to the OSA’s website. The site requests copies of students’ visas and student cards in exchange for a ‘SAFETYCard’, a program which purports to be “the national safety program of the International Student Community”. This program is not supported or recognised by the NSW Police or Government.

Reports suggest that OSA representatives were also distributing flyers promoting the SAFETYCard throughout Sydney’s Haymarket area over the weekend.

Manager of UNSW Security Services, Tara Murphy, said that OSA Representatives were asked to cease their activities and leave campus as they were not UNSW students and did not have authorisation from the University.

“The OSA management have been informed that they are not to undertake any promotional activities on campus without the appropriate approval being obtained, which is through Arc membership and FM Assist”, she said.

The OSA received significant media coverage in 2013 due to their involvement in SRC elections at UNSW and UTS, which was marred by accusations of harassment, bullying, and corruption of recognised University processes. This culminated in a statement from the NSW Deputy Premier, NSW Universities, the National Union of Students (NUS), and the Council of International Students Australia (CISA), that while OSA claims to be the peak representative body for international students, “it is not supported or recognised by the NSW Government, education providers, industry peak bodies or international student organisations.”

The statement also confirmed that CISA is the recognised representative body for international students.

The OSA’s reappearance on campus this month follows a number of other recent moves by the organisation to seek legitimacy and influence on campuses and within Government.

In December, the OSA and NLC released a statement claiming that their executive met with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, and that she endorsed their SAFETYCard programme as a potential model for Australian students studying in Asian under the New Colombo Plan. In an exclusive statement to Tharunka, a spokesperson for the Foreign Minister confirmed that while a brief meeting occurred with the National Liaison Committee, “neither the meeting, nor a photograph taken at the meeting, represent an endorsement of the NLC or its activities. The Foreign Minister’s office has on several occasions raised concerns with the NLC regarding its use of the photograph for promotional purposes and misrepresentation of the meeting with the Minister”.

Another OSA statement claims that CISA has received funding from OSA since May 2012, and that the OSA and NLC officials have authority over CISA. The statement also accuses NUS-recognised CISA President Thomson Ch’ng of speaking for CISA without any authority to do so, and claims NLC has commenced legal proceedings against him for illegal use of their name.

While Mr Ch’ng reports receiving intimidating phone calls, no legal action was launched against him. He said that he continues to be president of CISA, and refuted the suggestion that OSA has any financial ties or influence over CISA.

Enquiries to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission reveal that while the NUS-recognised CISA was established in 2010 through regulator Consumer Affairs Victoria, upper level NLC/OSA representatives registered the CISA name in NSW in 2012 through the Office of Fair Trading. This technique of registering the names of student bodies already in existence in another state has proven popular for the NLC, with names such as ‘Chinese Students Association’, ‘Muslim Students Association’, and ‘Indian Students Association’ registered in the same way. In late December, the names ‘Australian Student Association Limited’ and ‘Australian Association Limited’ were registered through ASIC, coinciding with a statement from the OSA claiming that the Chinese, Indian, and Muslim Students Associations have formally merged with the OSA to form establish the Australian Student Association, under the Australian Association. Investigation reveals the Australian Association to have all the same upper level staff as the NLC.

The OSA’s capabilities do not seem to be limited to the creation of fraudulent organisations. In the past month, membership of the UNSW group of the OSA site has increased from five members to 96. Through some miracle, all the new members of the UNSW group signed up to the OSA website consecutively, and have profile pictures of only their faces and a white background. Though an infinite number of user name combinations are available to students signing up for the website, all have chosen the lastname.firstname approach. A similar phenomenon exists on the UTS group, which now boasts 105 members. All other university groups have been less successful with ‘recruitment’, with groups only consisting of the moderator.

While the NLC and its subsidiary offshoots do not have the authority to speak for the international student community, and their representatives are finding themselves increasingly unwelcome in the offices of Government and University officials, the CISA President reiterated a previous comments by saying that “unfortunately many international students do not know that the OSA is not a genuine international student body, and that it should not be trusted with students’ personal information”.

UNSW SRC President, Joel Wilson, said “the OSA do not represent international students’ best interests. The SRC and UNSW have both made it clear that OSA is not permitted to hold activities on our campus. UNSW students should notify security when they see OSA run events.”

While Tharunka contacted the OSA and NLC through a number of channels, no reply was given at time of print.

Crystal Moran [twitname]manlycarrots[/twitname]