Downunder Grads


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2007. Total Running Time 104 Minutes (4 x 26 Minutes)

It’s the start of the semester at one of Australia’s top universities and 37,000 students are about to embark on their studies.
University is make or break time; a time that can change people forever. From free education in the 1980s to HECS fee debt and a large increase in full fee paying students, university education is now big business.

Through a variety of stories this four-part series explores the contemporary Australian university experience of both international and Australian students from a range of different backgrounds. Downunder Grads gives a special insight into the particular challenges facing this generation of students. Each character-driven story reveals the trials and triumphs of young people as they strive to make a life for themselves.


In the Mix It’s the first day of semester and new students are arriving at one of Queensland’s oldest universities about to embark on their studies, an experience that may well change them forever. What are their expectations and what will they discover? Some students are local and some have travelled many thousands of miles and their first priority is to find a place to live. 

Twenty-four year old journalism masters student Wei Wei has come to Australia from China to learn more about Western thinking and improve her English. First she has to find somewhere to live and figure out just what her teachers are saying. In the course of her studies however she has her lucky breaks. She arranges an interview with now Federal opposition leader Kevin Rudd, and is nervous about her ability to converse in English, only to find that he is fluent in Mandarin. But can she write up the interview in English?

American exchange student Emily Laird is to spend one semester in Australia studying psychology. She is hoping to make some Australian friends, as well as enjoy Australia as a visitor. She discovers that 95 per cent of American exchange students through her program fail to make Australian friends. Will her experience be the same?

First-year engineering student Gurteaj Atwal Singh from regional Queensland will be staying in on-campus accommodation at International House. His farming family is covering the cost of his studies and living expenses as he undertakes a degree notorious for its high drop-out rate. Not only does he have to deal with his studies, but the additional financial pressures of university life, particularly as a cyclone destroys his family’s annual banana crop.

The Big Squeeze The massive protests of the 1970s are gone but university life is still a roller-coaster ride, and students are more concerned about what they are going to do when they leave. Set against the backdrop of changing university life and student aspirations, this episode revolves around funding, which has become a major issue for both universities and students. Just how does it affect today’s staff and students?

Lucy Weber has gone part time for her final year in her Bachelor of Law and Arts as this year she is taking on the role of student union president. As voluntary student unionism (VSU) has just been introduced however, the job in managing the organisation becomes a massive headache as she finds herself involved in downsizing the union office resulting from the drop in funding.

Local student Lara Nobel will continue living with her parents and younger brother as she begins her tertiary studies. She has spent six months travelling between school and university, which she hopes will give her an extra edge in completing her Bachelor of Architecture—a degree her uncle attempted many years ago without success. She hopes to be the first person in her family to graduate from university, but first she has to deal with the lack of teaching space at the university.

Korean Chinese international student Jin Yongzhe (Leo) is also studying Architecture. The cost of one month’s study in Australia is equivalent to a year back in China, so he is feeling the pressure to do well, but will he manage with the workload?

Testing Times First year students have more than just their university studies to manage as they’ll do whatever it takes to get the edge over their competition. Eighteen-year-old political aspirant Toby Latcham struggles with a triple degree and his Young Liberal Party commitments, which are part of his life plan. His results are average, but he finishes the year on a high by meeting his idol, Prime Minister John Howard.

Tsuyoshi from Japan came to Australia to study his Master of Commerce, is initially over the moon to be in Australia but soon finds the whole experience overwhelming. He has to make the tough decision to persevere and face failure or head back home to Japan in disgrace.

Alejandra Arbe from Peru is studying her Bachelor of Veterinary Science. She too is worried about language and the difficulty of the course, and is concerned that other students are brighter than she and questions whether she may have got into the course because she is a full-fee paying international student. She contemplates the gravity of her family’s dream for a better life for her through education.

Two Worlds Collide AusAID scholarship students are generally returning to study after being in the workforce, so in addition to culture shock, they have to deal with separation from their families as they embark on further education.

Nita Ryarti from Jakarta arrives in Australia without her family. She tries to settle in and get on top of her assessments for her Masters in Development Planning early so when her family joins her, she can spend time helping them adjust. Her husband soon arrives with their two children, but Nita does not know if her husband will agree to stay on in Australia or return to Indonesia for the duration of her two-year degree course. She may have to juggle being a single mother as well as her studies. Nita finds she learns more from her university studies than she ever thought she would.

Fellow Indonesian AusAID scholarship recipient Muhammad Arsyad is a qualified teacher who has come to Australia from a small rural village on Lombok, a neighbouring island to Bali, Indonesia  Muhammad is undertaking a Master in Applied Linguistics, and his wife will be moving to Australia with their three children for the duration of his studies. As a devout Muslim there is a number of cultural barriers Muhammad and his newly arrived family will have to negotiate if it is all going to work out for each of them.

A Film Australia National Interest Program in association with Big Island Pictures and the Pacific Film and Television Commission. © 2011 National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

Free Teachers’ Notes - Download here


Directors: Phoebe Hart, Randall Wood, Suzanne Howard (segments)

Year: 2007

Total Running Time: 104 Minutes

Classification: Exempt from classification

Curriculum Links: Studies of Society, English, Media Studies, Career Studies and Education.

SKU 200501600
Brand Film Australia

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