Racism may not have been the prime reason for violent attacks on Indian, Chinese and other foreign students that strained diplomatic relations and hit Australia's A$18 billion-a-year ($22.3 billion) international education industry.
In what it says is the nation's most comprehensive study of student victimisation, the Institute of Criminology found that foreign students - especially Indians - were instead mainly targets of opportunity. "[The attacks] should not yet be interpreted as evidence of racism," the report says.
But the findings have been criticised by Race Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes, who said the research did not improve the understanding of the extent to which racial motivation was at play in crimes against international students.
He said foreign students could not be reasonably compared to the broader population as they faced a specific set of risks and vulnerabilities not experienced by others.
Innes said there were also significant issues with the under-reporting of crime and violence by international students.
The institute's study, which matched visa records for 400,000 students with police crime victimisation records, followed a series of attacks on foreign students - mainly Indian - between 2005 and 2009. Eight have been murdered in the past decade, most recently the fatal stabbing in January last year of Indian student Nitin Garg during a robbery by a group of thugs in Melbourne.
The institute said none of the killings had involved racial vilification or discrimination. But the violence caused tensions between Australia and India, which made formal protests and issued a travel warning of potential violence in Melbourne after its research found 23 incidents had racial overtones.
Anger was stirred by strident attacks on Australia in the Indian media - including the depiction of Victoria police as Ku Klux Klansmen - and sparked street protests in India and Melbourne.
Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was burned in effigy. The institute's report does not exclude racism as a motive, but supports claims by Victorian police and Australian political leaders that many were likely to have been attacked and robbed for other reasons.
Its research found most victims were robbed in the evening and early morning, with the risks increased by shift work and the use of public transport.
Many work in low-paid jobs in the accommodation, food services and retail sectors.
Indians, because of greater proficiency in English, are more likely to find work in service jobs such as service stations, convenience stores and taxi driving that typically involves working late-night shifts alone.
This increases the risk of crime, either at the workplace or while travelling to and from work, probably reflected in the findings that Indian males were five times more likely to be robbed than other men in New South Wales, and three times more likely in Victoria.
Overall, international students from the five main student source countries - India, China, South Korea, Malaysia and the United States - experienced incidents of physical assault at significantly lower rates than the general population.
But in some cases, comparisons between students from different countries showed that at times Indian students had higher rates of assault than others.