The first order of business for higher education agencies and governments who welcome sizable populations of international students every year is to take care of foreign students caught up in the lockdown.
Case in point: The Canadian government. The Great White North is allowing current and former international students to extend their stay to study through an “implied status.” International students who also meet the eligibility criteria for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) may receive income support.
Canada also lifted the restriction on working hours for international students. This means those working in priority sectors that are helping to fight COVID-19 can work more than 20 hours per week until August 31.
It is apparent that Canada seeks to be on track in its strategic plan to be a leading host country for foreign students, who will be the eventual source of high-skilled immigration.
Educational institutions – the microcosm of thriving international student communities – are no different. As their “home away from home,” colleges and universities also recognize their moral obligation to extend support to foreign students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic has brought about so many new factors into play in attracting and retaining international students,” said Shawn D. Swail, Chief Business Officer at MSM. “It’s no longer just about integration on campus, work opportunities and career advice, and cost and financial aid – students and their parents are looking at how institutions respond to the crisis and support them promptly and decisively.”
The pandemic opens up an opportunity for institutions to show that international students have chosen the right place to study. Higher education institutions (HEIs) can maximize their organizational capabilities to provide career and health counseling to affected students.
School administrators can build a one-stop shop to assist students in extending their study visas, helping ease the anxiety of being alone (usually for the first time) in a foreign country. Institutions can also tap their resident counselors to help international students make sense of the confusion brought by the pandemic.
Educators need to increase engagement and help students cope, especially those struggling to express themselves because of the language barrier.
Institutions can provide temporary shelter within the campus for those who lost their part-time jobs during the pandemic. Having a network of alumni and partners in the private and public sectors can also offer a network for international students to find new income sources. However, this largely depends on the industries allowed to operate during the pandemic.
Some universities are also providing scholarship extensions to help international students. “It’s only natural for them to rethink policies on payment plans to give families and students confidence to enroll, such that they have an alternative to deferring for future intakes,” said Swail.
Because international students are away from their families, it is important to keep in touch with them. Institutions can check in on what students need. A regular e-meeting with faculty and students can also help forge a sense of community and promote assurance. This becomes much more important among institutions taking classes fully online for the first time.
How institutions assisted those in need during this difficult period will be remembered for a long time.