‘Step up’ for foreign students, Australian government urged

Abrogating responsibility could torpedo industry and trigger a public health crisis, Canberra warned

April 6, 2020

Australia’s international education lobby is pressing for government support after Prime Minister Scott Morrison said foreign students in financial difficulty should leave.

Queensland’s International Education and Training Advisory Group has proposed a national hardship fund to help keep colleges afloat during the crisis. The aim would be to maintain the industry’s viability and avoid a reputational backlash while keeping in touch with the students – who have been overlooked by government assistance packages even though many have lost part-time jobs.

The group argues that their plight could trigger a health and humanitarian crisis, with many international students at risk of eviction and being further cast adrift by college bankruptcies.

IETAG member Phil Honeywood said the fund should have seed funding from the federal government and contributions from philanthropic foundations and educational institutions. The state and territory governments would administer and co-fund it.

Mr Honeywood, who heads the International Education Association of Australia, said the prime minister’s comments had been “interpreted in the worst possible way by international students and their families and agents”. He said Australia should look to New Zealand and Canada “which are providing much more support to overseas students”.

Australia was often accused of being “motivated by the dollars” and should “show compassion and genuine support in an unprecedented crisis”, he said. “International education as an industry has to be a two-way street. You can’t take A$39 billion [£19 billion] a year from international students and then give nothing back in a time like this.”

Education leaders have expressed outrage at Mr Morrison’s comments, which appeared to overlook the difficulty students would have in finding flights to their home countries and the peril they might face from the pandemic when they arrived.

International students and other temporary visa holders are not eligible for benefits including the JobKeeper Payment announced on 30 March. Adding to perceptions of unfair treatment, international students employed by major supermarkets will no longer be able to work extra hours after April because Australians are now attracting these jobs.

Mr Morrison’s tone suggests the government is unlikely to sympathise with calls for support for temporary visa holders. “It’s time to go home and they should make arrangements as quickly as possible,” acting immigration minister Alan Tudge echoed on 4 April.

But foreign students who have been in Australia longer than 12 months can now access their Australian superannuation if they face financial hardship. And Mr Tudge said the government would “undertake further engagement” with institutions already providing financial support for cash-strapped overseas students. Many universities have unveiled emergency grants, loans, fee reductions, care packages and food banks for foreigners.

Australian National University policy expert Andrew Norton said that in accepting the benefits of temporary migration, the country had an obligation to protect them during major crises. He said there was no rationale for excluding international students from the JobKeeper Payment.

“This policy is as much about business continuity as personal welfare,” he blogged. Workers’ visa status “has nothing to do with how necessary they are for a business to re-start after the Covid-19 crisis is over”.

Professor Norton said mass exodus or fee default by foreign students was “the most likely trigger” for a broader higher education sector crisis. “At best, thousands of higher education workers will lose their jobs. At worst, many universities will need government intervention to survive.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (4)

It's heartbreaking to hear this from the PM at this very moment. There's no flight available, and he's telling everyone with temp VISA including international researchers and underaged kids to jump into the sea??? It's just not decent to say things like this as a human being and the comments by locals on twitter are racist and disturbing. I'm afraid fewer people are choosing AUS as a destination for education and the ranking for the uni could going down as some researchers might leave after this.
International students in Australia r the brand Ambassador of Australian education system and it's social and economical setup. What message they will carry in comming future, it will all depends on what kind of treatment they will get from Australian in the need of hrs. We hope, Australia will not let down their trust.
As someone who used to be involved in Work and Travel programs, international students are required to show that they have sufficient finances to support themselves and not be a burden on their host countries. The wealthy countries have held up struggling countries for decades. When it comes to a national emergency, Australia has every right to look after their own first. What selfishness on the part of the students to not go home and be there for their families during this difficult time, and then expect a bailout. The universities should give students refunds and insure their safe journey back home. Universities make a ton of money and should use their profits to help these students if they are so alarmed about their plights.
Almost all international students are now experts in what Australia should or should not be doing and how it will affect Australia and her competitiveness in the future. Australians were once fine without international students and she will be fine without them once again. The post covid world will have all those countries that provided education to international students cutting international student capacity by 95 per cent and allowing only 5 per cent of high quality international research oriented students in these universities again and not all and sundry. When everyone else like Canada. USA, UK will do the same then along with Australia international students will have no option better than the other and these countries will only attract the talent that best suits their individual purpose. So all this talk about how Australia will lose out to others in post covid world is ludicrously speculative an uninformed. What will essentially happen in post covid world is that most countries will look inwards, international students will be required to study in their home countries and more than 50 per cent of education delivery to international students will be online delivered by Australian , Canadian, us universities in their own homes in their homes country. Basically Australian universities will come into the houses of international students with international students no longer required to come to Australia.

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