Beyond the rhetoric that aussie states are reaching out, surveys indicate that impacted students are still feeling short. Either they need to be informed or more needs to be done.

Australian States need to open up to International student arrivals. The indications are that politics is at play which is delaying the travel. International students are the only temporary visa holders who are willing to travel after a medical test and also undertaken a quarantine. Why not then enable their travel which can lift the economy and also keep Australia in the reckoning.

While prospective students considering Australia look out for announcements by the federal government, the real experience happens in the locations where they are studying. Thus the role of the various states is critical in ensuring that the International students do become good ambassadors for the cities where they are studying and living.

There has been a report by UTS professor Alan Morris along with colleagues from UTS, UDSYD and Macquarie where they surveyed the International students in Sydney and Melbourne. The report indicates and quoted from Campus Morning Mail of 10th August:

  • job losses are “dramatic”: 59 per cent of students surveyed were working before the pandemic but 61 per cent of them lost their jobs
  • rent is harder to make: a third go without food “quite often” to pay for accommodation. 21 per cent fear becoming homeless
  • paying for study and staying here is a worry: 44 per cent fear they will not be able to pay for tuition and 35 per cent worry they will have to leave Australia before completing their course
  • help at hand: 62 per cent say their institution offers financial assistance. But only 13 per cent of providers had reduced fees and 5 per cent had waived them
  • as for government: “The general feeling was that support from government and relief-providing organisations had not been strong. Fewer than 20 per cent of students felt that the support offered by the Victorian and NSW government was good or excellent, and even less—just 13 per cent—described support from the Federal government as good or excellent. By contrast, around three in ten students (29 per cent) agreed that the support from their country of origin community within Australia was good or excellent.”

The report, The Experience of International Students Before and During COVID-19: Housing, work, study, and wellbeing by Alan Morris, Catherine Hastings, Shaun Wilson, Emma Mitchell, Gaby Ramia and Charlotte Overgaard, is available for download here.

The third day of the AAERI convention hosted a discussion by key representatives of the various states.

The panel was coordinated by two of AAERI’s senior members. Sonya Singh, who has been representing Australian Universities for over 25 years and is the current President of the Australia Chapter and Rahul Gandhi who is an Australian Alumni (studied at UTS) and has been operating as an education agent for around two decades. Rahul is also a senior executive of AAERI India and has served as President too.

Panellists indicated that some of the cities did have free or discounted fairs in city areas. State Governments had set aside budget to take care of the impacted international students and going forward job hubs support mechanism was being created to enable easier access to PSW. There was some discussion also around the pilot that is being proposed to bring back the continuing students who may be stranded overseas. I invite you to listen to all that the states are doing and it is possible that the students where surveyed may not be fully aware.

My take after the session: Certainly the states did do their bit… If we take a look at the concern areas that come out of the UTS survey, most of them come under the ambit of the state and the students themselves have indicated, fewer than 20% felt that the state had done enough. It is not just enough to have an action plan but the action must reach the impacted students. I am sure that more can be done in future too.

The following are amongst the other recommendations made by AAERI to indicate that “Australia Cares” for those who are onshore. These can be immediately implemented by the states and will go a long way in easing the situation for the students.

  • All International students currently in Australia should be offered “one extra year” PSW on completion of the course. This will help with “return on investment” and will also convey the message that the country cares. Those who became eligible were not able to utilise the benefit at all as jobs were scarce. Now this is a decision for the Department of Home Affairs but the states can certainly make a public recommendation.
  • Transport within city on public transport should be made completely free for the next one year. This will help with managing costs. Despite years of lobbying, some states still don’t offer the international students transport concessions on public transport as they do for domestic students. (For example in NSW, the Opal Concession Cards are not issued to International students).
  • One of the impediments in the way of arrival of continuing and prospective International students is the stance taken by some of the state governments. The PM had included the travel of International Students as an inclusion under stage three of the opening up of the economy. We learn that two of the states that are to hold elections in the next six months may be hesitant to enable the travel for political reasons. This is not good for the industry and Australia needs to have a strategy to welcome International Students “with or without a vaccine”. International students are the only travellers who are willing to be tested prior to departure and also undertake a period of quarantine. UK and Canada are already giving out indications that they will be able to welcome such students.
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