10 April 2020 I By Ram Khatry I Hundreds of thousands of international students who felt neglected by Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s recent statement must know that there is at least one local government that loves them, wants them, values them and is in fact working on some manner of financial support in near future.
Last Tuesday, referring to the hard times they are facing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Melbourne City councillors requested its management to develop “further recommendations to support international students financially and in kind during this time”.
Councillors have also expressed their gratitude to the many international students who live in the city and play “a valuable role at the front line in the fight against Covid-19 including as researchers, student nurses, intern doctors, volunteers in hospitals and other health service providers”.
Dr Jackie Watts OAM, Melbourne City councillor and the chair of its Knowledge City portfolio, intimately knows the hardship faced by our international students.
As someone who holds a PhD in the field of Vocational Education and Training and worked with TAFE as well as in higher education sector for many years, Dr Watts is genuinely concerned for the welfare of international students that call Melbourne home.
“I am sensitive to, and aware of, the difficulties now more than ever being faced by so many students in Melbourne today – and international students in particular. The adverse impacts of CoVID-19 for international students are many,” the councillor told southasia.com.au.
Pointing out that her statements made to southasia.com.au were purely her personal views and not that of the Melbourne City Council, Dr Watts asserted that international students clearly needed help given the Federal government’s stance on the matter.
“I was elected to Council to represent my community. International students ARE my community and, given the stance of the Federal government, international students clearly need our support and assistance now. They should not be made to feel unnecessarily alarmed. Their well-being is an acute concern for all of us during this pandemic,” Cr Watts, who is in charge of Melbourne City Council’s relationships with universities and education institutions, remarked.
The distance from any family support, fear of contagion, non-existent part-time employment, rent, food, heat as winter approaches – all of this would be obvious to any empathetic person, she added.
“Know that you are genuinely valued in Melbourne. Have courage in these hard times. Be proactive with taking all opportunities which will hopefully arise. Take advantage of help of ALL kinds of assistance offered by Council. Remember that help not be in the form of a “package” but it will be help and it comes with sincere goodwill,” Dr Watts said when asked what her personal message to international students would be in these difficult pandemic-ridden times.
The motion regarding international students was passed only last Tuesday night and hence, it is expected to take some time before further details about the recommended assistance package are known. The management of the Melbourne City Council is currently working on the request of the councillors, it is understood.
For now, the compassionate gesture and kind words of Melbourne City office-bearers alone would win the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of international students and their guardians back home.
As of February 2020, there were 183,510 international students in Victoria.
Last financial year, the international education sector contributed $12.55 billion to the Victorian economy as against the national export total of $37.6 billion.
Last Tuesday night’s resolution was nothing but a free-flowing tribute to the invaluable contributions of international students.
The resolution formally recognises the hardship faced by international students as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic and calls on the Commonwealth and State Governments as well as organisations that derive benefit from international students to contribute to a National Hardship Fund for International Students.