Pilot plans have given international students hope of returning to Australia, however, a student leader believes that more could have been accomplished.
The country’s “Fortress Australia” response to the pandemic has had numerous consequences, one of which is a detrimental effect on the psyche of overseas students coming back to Australia.
According to Adventu’s findings, the number of students applying to study abroad at Australian universities has decreased while the country’s borders remain closed. Student attitudes toward Australia have deteriorated, with some viewing the country’s zero-Covid strategy as unwelcome and insular. However, the tide is changing; in August, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated that when higher vaccination targets are met, the country must begin to learn to live with Covid-19. Strategies to resurrect its foreign student segment are in the works.
The Australian government has approved International Student Arrival action plans for New South Wales (NSW), Queensland, Victoria, and South Australia to date. These plans have given hope to international students returning to Australia, and Oscar Zi Shao Ong is one of many students who are overjoyed.
“I am really glad to see the positive news around borders reopening and to see that NSW is removing the quarantine requirement,” said the national president of the Council of International Students Australia (CISA) to Study International. The country’s disjointed reopening plans, however, have sparked confusion for some.
“International students are extremely confused, with various pilot plans with different quarantine requirements being proposed and approved to date,” said Ong. “Most international students are fully vaccinated and [are] prepared to travel as soon as the borders open. International students add immense value to Australia and want certainty from the federal government to open borders to them.”
Ong is the national president of the Council of International Students Australia, a non-profit, non-political, and non-commercially aligned organization formed in response to the need for a unified voice among international students. He is currently a PhD candidate in Mechanical Engineering at The University of Adelaide.
As CISA’s national president, he is responsible for representing international students in key policy reviews conducted by the government. “I was flying back to Adelaide to start my PhD studies as Covid-19 started to spread in Australia,” he said.
As Covid-19’s spread worsened, the university transitioned online and asked PhD students and staff to work from home. “It was an extremely disruptive period where I had to physically move computers and equipment back home. The lack of human interaction has certainly made me feel lonely at times,” said Ong.
“We have overwhelming feedback that online studies just aren’t working,” said Ong. “Additionally, this is not what international students paid for. They paid for quality, face-to-face education. Further to that, onshore students would have received better support in terms of engagements and social events.”
He also stated that offshore students lack a sense of belonging to their university and that some have never set foot on campus. “A recent report also suggests that overseas students had poor mental health, particularly if they came from a country with a high number of Covid cases,” he adds.
For students, online learning hasn’t always been a breeze. Amidst Australia’s progressive reopening, Ong claims that overseas students in Australia face significant challenges and “deserve better. While we recognize and appreciate the current efforts to bring back international students, as well as the complexity of the logistics, and several pilot plans approved to date, more needs to be done.”
Recognizing the importance of a safe return and public health safety, he stated that many international students are fully vaccinated and pose little risk.
“We note other countries such as the UK and Canada have successfully brought back their international students during the pandemic, and we hope that Australia would follow their footsteps and accelerate the current reopening. We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with the government to bring international students back,” he said.