‘Time to go home’, Australian PM tells foreign students

Vice-chancellors stress support for students stranded in crisis

April 3, 2020
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Australian education leaders have bristled at prime minister Scott Morrison’s suggestion that international students who are facing economic hardship because of the pandemic should just go home.

“They’re obviously not held here compulsorily,” Mr Morrison told a 3 April press conference. “If they’re not in a position to support themselves, then there is the alternative for them to return to their home countries.

“All students who come to Australia…have to give a warranty that they are able to support themselves for the first 12 months of their study. That is not an unreasonable expectation of the government, that students would be able to fulfil the commitment that they gave.”

Mr Morrison said it was “lovely to have visitors to Australia in good times”. But now they should “make your way home” and “ensure that you can receive the supports that are available…in your home countries.

“At this time, Australia must focus on its citizens. Our focus and our priority is on supporting Australians and Australian residents with the economic supports that are available.”

The comments risk exacerbating perceptions of a transactional focus in Australia’s educational exchange. In past weeks, Australia has temporarily relaxed limits on the number of hours international students may spend in paid work so long as they are nurses, aged carers or supermarket workers − skills in shortage during the coronavirus crisis.

Monash University vice-chancellor Margaret Gardner said the sector was helping international students and the government should “step up” too. “In a global crisis, when people across the world find themselves in economic strife they could not begin to expect, compassion and active assistance is the answer − not slamming the door in their face,” she tweeted. 

Tertiary education consultant Claire Field said students should be able to draw on their own resources. “But they have paid for their courses in good faith, are miles from home and deserve kindness and support.

“They also generate jobs and pay taxes. If [the] prime minister wants [the] economy to bounce back post-virus, he should help students to stay.”

University of Western Australia interim vice-chancellor Jane den Hollander said the “unhelpful” comments would send an “unwelcome” signal and stymie Australia’s post-pandemic recovery. “Young people come here to study from all over the world because of Australia’s friendliness and the quality of our education communities.

“Irrespective of the off-the-cuff remarks of politicians, our message to our international students is that we value you as part of our learning community. We are glad you are here to learn and research with us, and we are here to support you if there is anything you need.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

Students have paid for class tution not for online courses. If university runs online courses in place of class, quality of education is not same. So tution fee should also be half. If university charges same tution fee for class and online teaching, it is not justified.
I can't help but notice that the comments from Monash vice-chancellor, IWA's vice-chancellor and the education consultant cited in the article are all female and seem to offer a voice of reason in light of their PM's unwelcoming remarks towards international students. It would be a mistake for Australia to send such a hostile message to international students because when the good times return, students might recall this sentiment when choosing their next education destination.

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