Dan O'Heirity

The Most Dangerous Times in Modern History

Today I feel the need to say something about the American election. Donald Trump has “lost” the election which means that America now has a disenfranchised, disaffected madman in charge of the country for the next 70 or so days. This is the truly terrifying aspect of the American election process. Consider that Trump just sacked his defence secretary Mark Esper via Twitter. Granted, Trump thought Esper had not been sufficiently loyal, but such an act is almost unfathomable for a president who is no longer president. I say “almost” because as reported by The Conversation Trump may have a condition called “Grandiose Narcissism” which would basically render him incapable of understanding that he has lost the election. Furthermore, Trump is not giving in despite his obvious election “loss”. Rather, Trump and his faithful followers have engaged in a campaign of calling the election a fraud. They have lied and made accusations that have no basis in any facts whatsoever.

Multiple news outlets, including The Independent, are pointing out that Trump is attempting to stage a coup where a coup is defined, broadly speaking, as an attempt to take over government. In this case, Trump is trying to make use of the courts and the legal system whilst also installing loyalists in the defence department and in other key security-related government posts. So, the issue is not just that Trump is refusing to concede. Rather, it can be argued that he is trying to subvert the democratic process in order to retain power. If he were to succeed in his attempted coup then democracy would be dead in America. Lies, accusations and false news would have won the day. Trump is a master manipulator and so it would be rash to claim that the fight is over. He will continue until the bitter end. Who knows what he will do should it become evident that he is not going to win his court battles, particularly when he faces multiple lawsuits should he not have the protection of being president. Here there is an important point. According to an academic quoted in The Guardian, this attempted coup is not “bound to fail”. It must be “made to fail”.

I’m obviously not a political analyst but I am intrigued by what exactly might be involved in trying to ensure that Trump’s attempted coup is unsuccessful. First let’s look at what Trump is actually doing in order to reinforce his position at the Whitehouse. Trump has been sacking a raft his officials including his defence secretary Mark Esper. In terms of making a coup fail, there is a question about the legality of Trump’s appointment of Christopher C Miller to the role of defence secretary. The candidate must have been out of active duty for 7 years, but Miller’s service did not end until 2014. My point here is that there are checks and balances around what Trump can and cannot do. The question is whether the laws, rules and regulations will be enforced. The next area that bares directly upon Trump’s attempted coup includes news reporting and, more broadly, social media. Take a look at this “report” from Sky News which is still playing up the idea that Trump could win the election.

There is a way to counter these ridiculous news stories. Networks have been cutting away from press conferences given by Trump and by his entourage for making unsubstantiated claims about electoral fraud. In terms of social media, FaceBook and Twitter are now flagging Trump’s tweets for being potentially “inaccurate”. The next area where the coup is being played out is in the realm of Trump and his office making unsubstantiated claims about widespread electoral fraud. This is a messy area. For example, a US postal worker who claimed to have witnessed ballot tampering may now have completely recanted on that claim. This is just one of many such stories around alleged electoral fraud. America needs to feel assured that its legal system operates to get down to the matter of the truth of these claims.

How Many International Students Are Actually Enrolled at Australian Universities?

I have written many times on the fact that Australian universities were significantly over dependent on their international students to be economically viable and that the Covid-19 border closures have meant that these universities have taken a massive financial hit due to the drop in international student numbers. At the same time I have not been able to make complete sense of this data because my own university, and indeed every other university in Australia, shifted all of its teaching online in 2020. Logically, this would seem to mean that the international students were still enrolled in their studies and contributing revenue to the universities. Today I came across an article from “The Conversation” that has brought some clarity to the situation. The article draws on a report from the Mitchell Institute entitled “Coronavirus and International Students“. The report “estimates over 300,000 fewer international students ā€” half the pre-coronavirus numbers ā€” will be in Australia by July 2021 if travel restrictions remain in place“. However, that still leaves the question of whether overseas international students will still be enrolled at Australian universities. The Conversation article provides some interesting data in this respect. Chinese students and Indian students make up the vast majority of international students enrolled in Australian universities and so I shall focus on those two countries.

On 29th March, 2020, 66,928 Chinese students were studying outside Australia, 106,796 Chinese students were studying in Australia giving an overall figure of 173,724 Chinese students studying in Australian universities. On 1st November, 2020, 85,612 Chinese students were studying outside Australia and 80,593 were studying in Australia giving a total of 166,205 Chinese students studying at Australian universities. Overall, that’s a percentage decrease of just over 4%. However, note too that there has been a drop in Chinese students studying in Australia and a significant increase in Chinese students studying outside Australia. If we take India, on 29th March, 2020, 5,743 students were studying outside Australia. 91,994 students were studying in Australia giving total student numbers at 97,737. As of 1st November, 2020, 9,114 Indian students were studying outside Australia. 78,772 students were studying in Australia giving a total student number of 87,886. That’s a decrease of just over 10%. Note again that there has been a drop in Indian students studying in Australia and a significant increase in Indian students studying outside Australia. The Conversation goes on to report that overall total enrolments of international students at Australian universities are down by 12% since March 2020. Additionally, the number of Australian-enrolled international students now studying remotely from outside Australia has increased from 116,774 to 138,060. This is an increase of just over 18%. Universities. Working on a University Trimester system, the period covered by the data analysis has included the commencement of Trimester 2, with Trimester 2 teaching beginning on Monday 13th July, 2020 and ending on Friday 2nd October.

I would make a couple of points here. The Conversation report upon which I have been drawing attributes the drop in student numbers to the fact that new students are not replacing current students as they finish their courses. That analysis seems a bit simplistic as we would need to compare enrolment patterns across years to determine if, for example, it just is the case that Trimester 2 enrolments are traditionally lower than Trimester 1 enrolments. However, more importantly I would note that overall total enrolments of international students at Australian universities are down by only 12% since March 2020. There is simply no way of being able to know the dollar cost to universities of a drop in the number of international students. However, according to another article from The Conversation published on March 17th, 2020, “Modelling from the Mitchell Institute shows the next big hit will come mid-year when $2 billion in annual tuition fees is wiped from the sector as international students are unable to travel to Australia to start their courses for second semester”. “Mid-Year” covers off the Trimester 2 enrolment period discussed above, a period that saw a drop in international students numbers of just 12% with a significant number of international students choosing to continue their studies online. The question to ask, and one that cannot be answered concerns whether “$2 billion in annual tuition fees [was] wiped from the sector as international students are unable to travel to Australia to start their courses for second semester“. Lastly I would say that the enrolment pattern we have seen this year calls into question the notion that “without” a 2021 intake of international students, universities will lose $19 billion over the next three years. The reality is that there will be a 2021 intake albeit with significant numbers of students studying online.

First Published November 11th, 2020

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