According to experts, Australia’s policy for international students during the Covid-19 pandemic fostered a “hierarchy” of international student mobility and more remains to be improved to prepare for an adequate restoration for all international students.
According to The Lygon Group, an international education consultant, the experience of overseas students has been affected by factors other than Australia’s border restriction policy. Two of the experts, Angela Lehmann and Varsha Balakrishnan pointed out that several structural issues, such as the academic institutions where students are enrolled and the courses they are taking, have affected students’ availability.
“Even the prompt reopening of the national border does not remove the inequalities experienced by international students during the pandemic,” they wrote.
“Many students are facing further structural barriers to their mobility that are unevenly distributed across the broader student community.”
There is a four-tiered mobility hierarchy among international students depending on their easy mobility in and out of Australia. According to The Lygon Group, students are now either locked out, locked in, or left out or they are the lucky ones. International students who belong to or are stranded in countries where Russia’s Sputnik V vaccination has been administered do not qualify for entry into Australia, although students in their final year taking degrees that involve lab study and practicals as a compulsory component do. The same would be true for students who have used Chinese Sinopharm vaccinations that do not match the requirements.
According to Lehmann and Balakrishnan, regulatory constraints like these have “arbitrarily erected a barrier to their re-entry into Australia” while also increasing disparities among overseas students. Students had to deal with various realities in each of the four groups of overseas students that they claim emerged during this time period. Although some students have been able to enter under the NSW trial plan, the bulk is still waiting and unclear. Students who have been “shut out” and unable to enter have faced numerous difficulties. Simultaneously, people who were in Australia before the border restrictions began and have stayed “locked-in” have had it difficult.
Due to the risks of not being able to re-enter Australia for an extended and unknown period of time, this group of students has been unable to return to their home countries and visit their relatives. They have also had to deal with hard financial realities, such as a lack of work chances, insufficient system support in the form of being unable to receive benefits under programs such as Job Seeker and Job Keeper, and social isolation. At the same time, there appears to be no window of opportunity for people who have not been immunized with an Australian TGA-approved vaccine.
They have been “left out” for the time being, according to Lehmann and Balakrishnan. With a solid federal system, states and territories have introduced policies that are not necessarily consistent with the central government ones. Corporate leaders, such as IEAA CEO Phil Honeywood, have asked the state and federal governments to work together more closely in order to send a unified message to overseas students and reestablish trust.
The consequences of the drop in numbers and profits attributed to overseas education are anticipated to take much longer than a couple of years to recover completely, and the time is running out.