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The Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) may be the biggest disruption to the flow of international education in history. This global dilemma is now interfering with more than 5 million international students worldwide. 

Specifically, Australia’s academic year starts its semester in January or early February. However, around 100,000 Chinese students are stuck in China due to travel bans issued this month. This is a major blow to the multi-million dollar international education industry.

The Most Hard-Hitting Crisis in the History of International Education

The SARS epidemic in 2003 did not make a significant impact on international students because it peaked at around April to May. This was well after the academic year started in Australia. 

COVID-19 has become a huge global concern. There were more than 212,000 Chinese students in Australia before 2019 ended. This figure accounts for 28 percent of the country’s international education population.

The crisis is hitting the Chinese international students hard, not only to their studies but also their accommodation, part-time employment, life plans, and overall well-being. 

A humane and supportive response from the international education sector is vital at this point. CEO of Universities Australia, Catriona Jackson, asserts that “every option possible” has been made available to the estimated 100,000 international students in Australia who are currently affected by the travel bans amid the COVID-19 outbreak. She assured that the students can study only for a period, delay their start of the study, or defer without being issued any financial penalty.

Profound Impact on Teaching Workforce and Class Sizes

The reduced enrollments will have a strong negative impact on the teaching workforce and class sizes, with many universities having a high proportion of Chinese students. When class sizes are too small, schools will have to cancel them. 

Universities are now scrambling to address the issue by delivering online courses and providing arrangements around the start of the semester. However, some teachers are concerned that the rapid shift to online classes to be able to accommodate students stuck overseas are putting them in a difficult position.


In an interview with The Guardian Australia, Francine Chidgey, a casual teacher at the University of Queensland’s Institute of Continuing and TESOL Education (ICTE), said, “In other departments, colleagues have told me they’re snowed under trying to adapt materials for lectures and tutorials to be offered online. They haven’t been paid overtime for this demanding work.”

Approximately 40 of the University of Queensland’s casual staff have lost 17 weeks of work. Students, on the other hand, were warned that they will fail if they fail to settle semester dues on time, the report said.

Negative Impact on Tourism

The effects do not end in the universities. Tourism has also been affected, with accommodation providers, retailers, and restaurants that cater to Chinese students taking a hard hit. The losses due to the significant drop in enrollments already amount to several billion dollars to date.

International education leaders and associations, government officials and education providers continue to provide support for Chinese students, but the virus outbreak raises awareness in the international education industry the need for effective crisis response and risk management. 

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MSM Reporter is collated by a globally spread team of MSM and is published every Thursday.

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