Support for International Students during the COVID-19 Crisis
The Australian Association of University Professors (AAUP) is asking Vice-Chancellors who have not done so yet to urgently help the international students stranded in Australia with financial and emotional support. While some universities have set up limited hardship funds, we call on every vice-chancellor to put their hand in their pocket and mobilise their administration to reach out to those stranded international students and support them now.
There are an estimated 565,000 international students in Australia, and before the coronavirus outbreak, many had casual employment across the country’s hospitality, tourist, and retail sectors. These are the hardest areas hit with job losses. However, after losing their jobs, and with no entitlement to government support, international students are now one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. International students in Australia have been struck hard by the economic impacts of COVID-19. With many currently unemployed and unable to return home, time is running out.
International students are excluded from the federal government’s COVID-19 support measures, states and territories have started to offer their assistance. For instance, the Victorian Government announced a $45 million fund to support international students in Victoria facing hardship because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The fund is being delivered in partnership with Victoria’s tertiary education providers but is only up to $1100 per student for those who have lost their wages and work.
Recently, Monash University had provisionally allocated AU$15 million in hardship grants to its students from undergraduate to higher degree research, including domestic and international students. However, the VC stated that “But applications from students for grants are well more than our current provision so that the final expenditure will depend in part on the level of hardship among them,” Disclosed revenue for Monash university was income $2,508,908,000 in 2019.
There is no support from the federal government with Prime Minister Scott Morrison reported as stating that international students who can no longer afford to support themselves in Australia should go home. “All students who come to Australia … have to give a warranty that they can 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.”
However, international education earned Australia A$40.4 billion in 2019, making it the country’s fourth biggest export after iron ore, coal, and gas. The industry supports “upward of 250,000 jobs”, according to federal education minister Dan Tehan.
With the drop in future revenues from the current crisis, the AAUP estimates that many University employees will be made redundant, and international students also supported up to 130,000 jobs in downstream industries.
The AAUP has called for support for a Senate enquiry into rebuilding the Australian university system. Insufficient public funding for teaching and research means no university can operate without the international income to fill the gap. Universities did not bring this on themselves – dependence on international students is a consequence of long-standing federal policy.
After the great reset following the COVID-19 social and economic impacts, we believe Australian public universities should move away from user-pay and making money from international students. Governments need to fully fund research and teaching and not rely on international students to subsidise educating Australians.