- The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in strict border closures in top study destinations.
- Australia closed its borders to the entire world.
- International students chose other countries instead of Australia during 2020.
- There was an increase in the issuing of offshore student visas during the pandemic.
- International students still contribute to the Australian economy through tuition fees.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, border closures in different parts of the world started, making it a burden and challenge to all international students. Top study destinations Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States have had strict and changing travel restrictions. This is one of the major reasons why some international students deferred or chose other study destinations to pursue their career goals.
Australia as a Study Destination During the Pandemic
The Australian government imposed the world’s strictest lockdown rules in March 2020 when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the pandemic. Aside from not letting anyone inside the country, Australia’s lockdown means its own citizens could not leave for other places as well.
The government enforced localized lockdowns, aggressive COVID-19 testing, and contact tracing to the point that the smallest flare-ups of the coronavirus can put a specific area in the toughest restrictions.
Though this level of security may make Australia a safe place for international students, it has made it difficult for old and new students to continue their academic programs.
International enrollments in Australian higher education institutions have had an increasing pattern since 1994. In 2020, the numbers began to go down, especially when the COVID-19 pandemic started.
Source: Department of Education, Skills and Employment, Australian Government
From September 2020 to March 2021, Canada, the US, and the UK topped the list of the most preferred study destinations in the world. Australia and New Zealand are at the bottom of the list as these countries have barred international travelers from coming in. Even education agents are not confident in promoting Australia to students in the world as other countries such as the UK are more welcoming.
With Australia’s strict border policies, international students were reluctant to continue their studies in 2021. Flights accepting foreign travelers were not available and the Australian Government has had delays in issuing student visas during the lockdown.
The Shift to Offshore Enrollment
Even though Australia is still not open to the world in contrast to other top study destinations, international students have managed to pursue their education online in their own respective countries. An Australian education was possible after all amid the ongoing pandemic.
Compared with 2020, the year 2021 experienced an increase in the number of offshore visa grants to international students. Even if international students could not come to Australia to attend in-person learning, they could start their academic program in their home country through virtual learning. They are also allowed to attend their face-to-face classes when the borders reopen, provided that they have the student visa issued.
While borders remain closed, many Australian universities have been offering discounts to make sure international students still pursue their academic programs offshore. Adelaide, Newcastle, and Queensland universities offer high-quality education with discounts of up to 20 percent to students around the world to keep the economy afloat until international travel resumes.
Economic Contribution of International Students During Border Closures
Before the pandemic, international students have been vital to the economy of Australia. They contribute $40 billion annually and support approximately 250,000 jobs in the country. When the pandemic hit, the Australian government made important visa changes to make sure that international students will still be able to have access to Australian education by granting student visas and studying online in their home countries.
Another thing is that there are no additional visa fees paid if a student cannot complete his studies with the original visa validity because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government also ensures that those issued with student visas and commence their studies online may be able to have a post-study work visa at the end of their programs. These changes help back the fourth largest export – which is the international education sector in Australia.
While international students choose Australia as their study destination despite border closures, they are still making a big contribution to the economy. Tuition from students outside Australia in 2020 already totaled $3.3 billion. To support this, in line with ASIE 2021-2030, a $9 million budget is allotted for short-term support for private ELICOS providers in helping them diversify offeringsinto offshore and online delivery. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)
Suneetha has more than 10 years of experience in the international education sector. As president of MSM, she fortifies its business development outreach globally, particularly in the face of MSM’s foray into edtech-based recruitment via MSM Unify. She preserves the premium, value-adding services provided to each MSM partner institution, including dedicated teams on the ground, agent management, lead generation and inquiry management, application pre-screening, and student and parent support through pioneering pre-departure briefing sessions.
She has an impeccable track record of successfully launching the representative offices in Asia and Africa of many North American and European higher education institutions. Her key strengths include hiring, training, and developing teams as evidenced by the successful results of the dedicated in-country college and university client teams.
Suneetha also has taken the lead in developing several initiatives at MSM, including building robust standard operating procedures, the Rise ‘n Shine team engagement platform, and the organization’s data analytics and audit segments.