By Bikash Pandey, Brisbane
30 March 2020
Australia, as well as rest of the world, is currently going through an unprecedented crisis the effect of which will certainly be felt for a long, long time to come. As coronavirus continues to disrupt the Australian way of life, no one has remained untouched by the crippling pandemic.
International students however have emerged as a particularly vulnerable group.
Against this backdrop, it is rather disheartening to see that none of the education industry stakehholders, who have benefitted so much from the influx of international students to Australia, have come forward to acknowledge or sympathise with the hundreds of thousands of young men and women from overseas. They are reeling under severe financial distress under the current circumstances. We cannot say that the Australian government has not done anything at all given the fact that it has provided them with the opportunity to work extra hours supporting critical areas.
However, that’s obviously not enough for any number of reasons. They need more help.
There are hundreds of education providers that have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. As a resident of Australia, I am, for instance, safeguarded by some of the decisions the federal government has lately taken but my heart aches for our international students. They left home and travelled thousands of miles in search of better opportunities and now they find themselves in the worst of nightmares.
I feel for them because some 15 years ago, I was in that boat myself. The challenges that become a part of your new life in a distant land are still fresh in my mind.
We must feel for these young students at a time like this: they don’t have any family members here to fall back on, they don’t have jobs to rely on, they don’t have healthy bank balances to draw from and, nor do they have a government to fall back on. Australian government has not yet announced anything substantial for international students. On the other hand, they cannot expect their own government to be of much help either as they came here for a better version of everything that they couldn’t find in their own country.
Every year, the Australian government spends millions of dollars to sell Australia, to show that it is the best destination for international students. But now that they are distressed, we are failing to provide any support in their time of dire need. This is not to advocate some form of cash handouts; words of encouragement and sympathy may greatly allow these students to retain hope and optimism.
Right now, the government is undertaking all sorts measures and announcing various packages to support Australian citizens and permanent residents. But those plans and programmes do not cover international students, a very vulnerable group of people that also live within the borders of the Commonwealth. We must not forget that these students are also residents of this country as they live their life here, pay taxes here, contribute to superannuation and work multiple jobs to keep this economy running. We must not forget that these students brought some $38 billion dollars to Australia economy in 2018-19.
However, as multiple stimulus packages have been hastily put together to keep it “business as usual”, are we forgetting the contribution these international students make to the life of everyday Australians? Are we forgetting the number of Australian people that are employed in Universities, Higher Education Colleges, and Vocational Educational as direct impact of them coming to this country as a student? Are we forgetting insurance companies, hospitality business, rental apartments, and many other businesses that have significant support of these international students? Are we forgetting the number of international students supporting critical areas including healthcare that are becoming the backbone of this country’s current crisis response process?
As an insider of Australia’s international education industry, the writer of this article only hopes that we do not go down in history as a country that failed to support its international students, who are affected just as everyone else in the country by the way, in such difficult of times.
As coronavirus continues to affect life around the world and in Australia, students have lost their jobs and to make things worse, they have no support from their families back home as they themselves are dealing with the same scourge. In the meantime, they still need to pay their rent, pay hefty tuition fee and cope with all sorts of bills. As if that’s enough trouble, visas of many students may be expiring soon while some had gone home for holidays and are now unable to return.
Few things that I think the government could immediately do for international students:
- Allow automatic extension of all student visas for 6 months or the estimated time that will be lost due to the virus. This will decrease the student’s burden at present and assist education providers. Meanwhile, regulators are wanting the coursework to stay true to rigid requirements that might be difficult to be meet during this time. How are the students supposed to complete their course in Commercial Cookery without placement, when no café is open? How are Nursing students supposed to complete their nursing placement when they are unable to work in hospitals? How are students to complete their Hairdressing degrees when they are unable to practice on live clients, when 30 minutes would be not even enough for a good haircut?
- Provide onetime $1,000 payment to each student for maintaining their livelihood or create a rent freeze for the whole nation as this might stop those students who are unable to pay rent (due to losing their jobs) from being evicted from their residences.
Author is the CEO of Vibe College, Brisbane.
(Author is solely responsible for facts, figures and opinions presented in this article – editor.)