International higher education is being transform by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to falling international student enrollments, the sector that was once dominated by the US and UK is now in decline. Our research shows that Australia has a great opportunity to be a top international destination for study. However, this depends on a proactive and urgent response to the pandemic’s challenges.
Josh Frydenberg, Federal Treasurer, stated this week that Australia’s 70% and 80% vaccination targets would provide a real chance to allow borders to be reopened to international students. He said, It’s a big deal for our economy and it’s a big deal for our universities. It was worth approximately A$40 billion to Australia, with about $10 billion in revenue from university fees. However, it has declined during the pandemic.
Students want to continue their education abroad. Countries that are able to respond quickly to the pandemic will have a competitive advantage and can capture large swathes of this lucrative global market. Understanding COVID-19’s effect on international students, their changing needs and how to respond to them is key to grabbing this opportunity.
We recently published research on COVID-19’s effect on international students. This research done in the second half of 2020, with international students at Charles Darwin University’s Asia Pacific College of Business and Law. CDU is the only university that has allowed international students to Australia since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Online surveys revealed that both the Australian government and university received positive ratings for their pandemic response. Both CDU as well as the government did a good job in supporting student well being, encouraging hygiene, social distancing and effective communication.
International students need more financial support. Many people lost their jobs and the financial support they received from their countries. This led to stress and mental health problems.
Interviews with international students revealed that the criteria they used to choose their destination for study were constantly changing. The new priorities in pandemics include vaccination rates and country infections, as well border closures, diplomatic relations and support interventions. These interventions are intend to assist students in continuing their education and dealing with the effects of COVID-19.
CDU, for example, has switched from traditional classroom teaching to online learning when necessary due to lockdowns. This is similar to other Australian universities. It has provided, among other things:
A CDU charter flight took international students to Australia in November 2020, the first and only time this had happened since the pandemic. They arrived at Howard Springs, also known locally as Corona Springs, safely and without any COVID-19-related incidents. These students were very happy that they could continue their education in Australia, despite COVID-19. One student stated. This historic success gives international students complete confidence.
The COVID-19 response from Australia and international student arrivals in November last year gave hope for the entire Australian higher education sector. The promising initial response to the crisis has stall for 2021. The government has stopped international students from coming to Australia. The reason was to prioritize the return of Australians who have been strand overseas. Howard Springs is being underutilize, which means that it has miss an opportunity to deport international student arrivals.
Australia’s higher education sector will at a disadvantage in 2021 compare to other countries like the UK which open. Higher education in Australia is at grave risk. As international students complete their degrees, the sector will be facing increasing losses in 2022. China and other Asian countries are also looking to capitalize on this situation. They are working quickly to attract international students who were originally going to Australia but are now looking for other destinations.
Australia is still the best choice for international education. However, this outcome is dependent on a proactive COVID-19 strategy. This strategy includes the careful reopening and optimization of the use of established quarantine facilities. Australia could be relegate to the lower leagues of international higher education markets without a clear strategy. It would also lose billions of dollars annually in foreign income that Australia enjoyed before the pandemic. It would also be a waste of the decades of investment and effort that have built Australia’s international reputation for excellence in education.