AUSKAR SURBAKTI, PRESENTER: As Asian universities struggle to compete, international students here in Australia are struggling to make ends meet.
The Australian city of Melbourne may be one of the world's top destinations for international students but it's also one of the most expensive. And Victoria is the only Australian state that doesn't give public transport concessions.
Long-running campaigns to change the rules have so far been unsuccessful.
Now, Melbourne City Council has decided to take-up the cause and lobby the government to effectively halve the students' transport costs.
But as Girish Sawlani reports, international students in Australia are continuing to struggle, amid ever increasing education and living costs.
GIRISH SAWLANI, REPORTER: It's one of Melbourne's most iconic symbols. But for many international students here, the cost of taking a tram ride is a major financial burden.
STEVEN JINGGA, UNIVERSITY STUDENT: Daily is roughly almost $12 a day. It's out of the budget that I prepared to pay before I came here.
GIRISH SAWLANI: Indonesian student Steven Jingga is doing a Masters in Practising Accounting at Swinburne University in Melbourne's east. Rents for accommodation near his institution are high, so he's forced to travel a long way from home each day.
STEVEN JINGGA: I have to find accommodation further away from the uni, that means in Zone Two, which is cheaper. That's why I sacrifice on accommodation and travelling time. But I manage to survive on that.
GIRISH SAWLANI: Currently, Victoria is the only state in Australia not to provide international students with concessions that would effectively halve their transport costs.
Long running campaigns by student groups have so far failed to sway the state government. But now that campaign has received a massive boost from the Melbourne City Council. The Council recently voted unanimously to begin talks with Victorian State Transport Minister, Terry Mulder.
JACKIE WATTS, MELBOURNE CITY COUNCILOR: It seems to me to be most unjust that the international students, who share the life of the city, are not permitted these concessions other students have.
GIRISH SAWLANI: This new push by the Council has been welcomed by international student groups.
THOMSON CH'NG, COUNCIL FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS IN AUSTRALIA: It's always a good start many such a great initiative from stakeholders to take up proactive responsibility to advocate for the welfare of international students. Because at the end of the day, what students are looking for is a great quality experience, which is very important to the future and the sustainability of this sector.
GIRISH SAWLANI: Paying full fares for public transport is just one of the cost pressures facing international students here in Victoria. But across the country, they're also being squeezed by high rents and visa conditions that restrict students from working more than 20 hours per week.
At the Salvation Army headquarters in Melbourne's CBD, struggling international students gather daily at this café, known as the Couch, for free meals and advice on housing and employment.
PETER HICHAABA, SALVATION ARMY COORDINATOR: We still have a bigger number of students that are coming here for a meal because they cannot afford to buy to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. So at the end of the day they came here, at least they have a meal.
GIRISH SAWLANI: Among them is Iranian Behrooz Ghabraie, a PhD candidate at RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) University.
BEHROOZ GHABRAIE, PHD CANDIDATE, RMIT: Basically Australia is an expensive country. Accommodation, housing, it's really expensive. Almost half of the amount that I was paying my accommodation I was paying for transport at that time. And also food is expensive. But you can keep that price, you know that expenses a bit lower than normal by coming to Couch, places like this.
JACKIE WATTS: These students are not a super wealthy class. Many of these students are experiencing hardship, their families are experiencing hardship to get them here to Australia.
GIRISH SAWLANI: The international education sector injects around $15 billion to the Australian economy each year.
The Federal Government in Canberra is developing a new national strategy to attract even more foreign students here. But with tuition fees and living expenses more than doubling over the past decade, the rising costs may derail those plans.
THOMSON CH'NG: The fact that Australia was recently being listed as one of the most expensive countries to study in, that actually makes the situation worse.