Behind Victoria’s decision to open primary schools to all students: report shows COVID transmission is rare



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Fiona Russell, University of Melbourne; Edward Kim Mulholland, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Kathleen Ryan, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Kathryn Snow, University of Melbourne; Margie Danchin, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and Sharon Goldfeld, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

At the weekend, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews announced all the state’s primary school kids would return to school for Term 4. This is an update from the previously planned staggered return to primary school, which would begin only with students in the early years — prep (first year) to Year 2.

The change was informed by our analysis of Victorian health and education department data on all cases and contacts linked to outbreaks at schools and early childhood education and care services (childcare and preschool).

We included data between January 25 (the date of the first known case in Victoria) and August 31.

Our analysis found children younger than 13 seem to transmit the virus less than teenagers and adults. In instances where the first case in a school was a child under 13, a subsequent outbreak (two or more cases) was uncommon. This finding played a key role in helping make the decision for primary school children to return to school.

Here is what else we found.

1. Outbreaks in childcare and schools are driven by community transmission

Infections linked to childcare, preschools and schools peaked when community transmission was highest in July, and declined in August. In addition, they were most common in the geographical areas where community transmission was also high.

This suggests infections in childcare, preschools and schools are driven primarily by transmission in the broader community. Controlling community transmission is key to preventing school outbreaks.

2. School infections are much lower than in the community

There were 1,635 infections linked with childcare, preschools and schools out of a total of 19,109 cases in Victoria (between January 25 and August 31).

Of 1 million students enrolled in all Victorian schools, 337 may have acquired the virus through outbreaks at school.




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Of 139 staff and 373 students who may have acquired infection through outbreaks at childcare, preschools or schools, eight (four staff and four students) were admitted to hospital, and all recovered.

The infections in childcare, preschools and schools were very rarely linked to infections in the elderly, who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

3. Most infections in schools and childcare centres were well contained

Of all the outbreaks in Victorian childcare centres, preschools and schools, 66% involved only a single infection in a staff member or student and did not progress to an outbreak. And 91% involved fewer than ten cases.

Testing, tracing and isolation within 48 hours of a notification is the most important strategy to prevent an outbreak.

The majority of infections in childcare, preschools and schools were well contained with existing controls and rapid closure (within two days), contact tracing and cleaning.




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4. Households are the main source of infection, not schools

The investigations of cases identified in schools suggest child-to-child transmission in schools is uncommon, and not the primary cause of infection in children. Household transmission has been consistently found to be the most common source of infection for children.

Closing schools should be a last resort

Based on our findings and a review of the international literature, we recommend prioritising childcare centres, preschools and schools to reopen and stay open to guarantee equitable learning environments — and to lessen the effects of school closures.

Children do transmit the virus and outbreaks can occur. But based on the international literature, this mostly happens when there are high rates of community transmission and a lack of adherence to mitigation measures (such as social distancing) at the school or childcare centre.

Childcare centres, preschools and schools play a critical role not only in providing education, but also offering additional support for vulnerable students.

With childcare centres and schools being closed, along with the additional economic and psychological stress on families, family conflict and violence has increased. This has led to many children and young people feeling unsafe and left behind in their education and suffering mental-health conditions.

Closing all schools as part of large-scale restrictions should be a last resort. This is especially the case for childcare centres, preschools and primary schools, as children in these age groups are less likely to transmit the virus, and be associated with an outbreak.

Now that community transmission in Victoria is so low, it’s time for all kids to go back to school.




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The authors would like to thank their advisory committee from the Department of Education and Training and the Department of Health and Human Services. They would also like to thank outbreak epidemiologists at the DHHS and medical students Alastair Weng, Angela Zhu, Anthea Tsatsaronis, Benjamin Watson, Julian Loo Yong Kee, Natalie Commins, Nicholas Wu, Renee Cocks, Timothy O’Hare, and research assistant Kanwal Saleem, and Belle Overmars.The Conversation

Fiona Russell, Principal research fellow, University of Melbourne; Edward Kim Mulholland, Professor, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Kathleen Ryan, Research Fellow, Asia-Pacific Health, Infection and Immunity Theme, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Kathryn Snow, Epidemiologist, University of Melbourne; Margie Danchin, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and Sharon Goldfeld, Director, Center for Community Child Health Royal Children’s Hospital; Professor, Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne; Theme Director Population Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

4 out of 5 international students are still in Australia – how we treat them will have consequences



International students in Australia are actively comparing their situation during the pandemic with their peers in other countries.
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Angela Lehmann, Australian National University and Aasha Sriram, University of Melbourne

COVID-19 has not stopped international education. As of August 24, 524,000 international students were living among us in Australian cities and communities. They represent 78% of all student visa holders, according to data the Department of Home Affairs provided to us.

These students are potential ambassadors for Australia and our institutions. They could help shape our country’s reputation as a safe and welcoming destination in the post-pandemic world – but only if we look after them.

Pie chart and table showing numbers of international students in Australia and offshore

Data as of August 24 2020 provided by Department of Home Affairs, Author provided

The numbers of students now in Australia vary across sectors. Currently, 73% of our international higher education students and 78% of postgraduate research students are here. The vast majority — 78% — of our international secondary school students are still here too.

The percentage is even higher for vocational education and training (VET): 91% of the sector’s international students are here, 159,233 in all.

Non-award programs (shorter courses that don’t lead to a degree or diploma) and English language programs (ELICOS) have the largest percentages of students now offshore.

Table showing numbers and percentages of student visa holders still in Australia

Data provided by Department of Home Affairs at authors’ request, Author provided

The experiences these large numbers of students are having now will have a direct impact on their decisions and patterns of mobility once borders reopen.

However, institutions and government agencies continue to focus on outward-looking approaches to recovery, such as offshore recruitment and delivery, negotiating pilot safety corridors, and scenario planning for the reopening of borders. The onshore response to international education risks being severely neglected.




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Students are comparing countries’ responses

International students in Australian cities and communities are of course talking about their situation. They are using social media, creating blogs and interacting constantly with families and friends back home and around the world.

During the pandemic, this peer-to-peer form of marketing is heightened in its global reach. Our students are constantly comparing their lives with students in both their home countries and Australia’s major competitor destinations.

As a result, the crisis of international student social support is the subject of global comparisons. Students and their families are weighing up what they are going through “here” compared to what others are going through “there”.




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A life transformed in Melbourne

Arya is a full-time postgraduate student from India who is staying in Melbourne. We spoke with Arya as a part of a series of interviews with international students during COVID-19.

Her dream of studying in Australia was made possible through a combination of a student loan, borrowing from family, and savings after working for two years as a journalist. Prior to COVID-19, she relied on part-time jobs to support herself. This income was essential to her financial survival in Melbourne.

The first lockdown meant she lost both her jobs — one in hospitality and one at her university. As these sectors are struggling in this crisis, her prospect of finding a new job is bleak.

Arya is not eligible for federal government support such as JobSeeker. But she might be able to get Victorian government support, including a voucher to buy groceries and a one-off payment of A$1,100. She can also apply for a modest grant from her university to cover some bills.

She has struggled to pay rent, but the moratorium on evictions has prevented her from becoming homeless. Her university and local community groups in Melbourne have also provided food hampers.

Arya’s goal was to study in Australia at a world-class institution and solidify her status within the upwardly mobile middle classes in India. Her life has been transformed into a struggle to eat, pay rent and avoid homelessness while keeping her grades up. Arya observes:

It is becoming more than an education. The question is shifting to how students live and survive in a global city midst a pandemic.




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It’s even harder in the US

Arya is in contact with friends and fellow Indian students studying overseas. While her situation in Melbourne is dire, her friends in the US are struggling every day. Arya introduced us to Dhanya.

Dhanya, who moved to New York in 2017 to study, says she is struggling “despite doing everything right”. After recently graduating and finding a job, Dhanya lost her H1B sponsored visa for skilled workers as a result of the Trump administration’s recent freeze on visas. “The US government has not considered that we can’t get home,” Dhanya says.

She reports that she and many of her friends in similar situations have been told they can choose to work as unpaid interns.

Many American states enacted a patchwork of temporary eviction moratoriums and the federal government issued a partial ban on evictions. These moratoriums have now largely expired, forcing students to rely on the discretion of landlords. As a non-citizen, Dhanya cannot receive unemployment benefits or a stimulus cheque.

Dhanya is unaware of any non-monetary support from her university or the government for international students. There are no free meal plans, grocery vouchers, or community-based food schemes.

Despite our Melbourne-based student living with the daily anxiety about her finances, she is comparing her experience relatively positively to her friends in the US.

Some countries are enhancing reputations

Students are paying attention to countries that are including international students and temporary migrants in their social policy response to COVID-19. Arya says:

The way countries handle this now is definitely going to impact how students see your country as a destination in the future.

Arya and her friends are keeping a keen eye on European destinations such as Germany and Sweden. They have also been impressed by Canada’s timely support for international students during this crisis.




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It is not enough for Australia to rely on other nations doing badly on social welfare and support. We need to do more than aim to receive a comparatively “good” score on poverty, exploitation and vulnerability based on others doing worse.

Australia urgently needs to actively reshape international education market perceptions by demonstrating that we offer not only world-class education, but also world-class student support. And that starts with helping the cohort of more than half-a-million international students who currently call Australia home.The Conversation

Angela Lehmann, Honorary Lecturer, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University and Aasha Sriram, Research Assistant, Melbourne Social Equity Institute, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Children might play a bigger role in COVID transmission than first thought. Schools must prepare



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Zoë Hyde, University of Western Australia

Over the weekend, the World Health Organisation made an announcement you might have missed.

It recommended children aged 12 years and older should wear masks, and that masks should be considered for those aged 6-11 years. The German Society for Virology went further, recommending masks be worn by all children attending school.

This seems at odds with what we assumed about kids and COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic. Indeed, one positive in this pandemic so far has been that children who contract the virus typically experience mild illness. Most children don’t require hospitalisation and very few die from the disease. However, some children can develop a severe inflammatory syndrome similar to Kawasaki disease, although this is thankfully rare.

This generally mild picture has contributed to cases in children being overlooked. But emerging evidence suggests children might play a bigger role in transmission than originally thought. They may be equally as infectious as adults based on the amount of viral genetic material found in swabs, and we have seen large school clusters emerge in Australia and around the world.

How likely are children to be infected?

Working out how susceptible children are has been difficult. Pre-emptive school closures occurred in many countries, removing opportunities for the virus to circulate in younger age groups. Children have also missed out on testing because they typically have mild symptoms. In Australia, testing criteria were initially very restrictive. People had to have a fever or a cough to be tested, which children don’t always have. This hindered our ability to detect cases in children, and created a perception children weren’t commonly infected.

One way to address this issue is through antibody testing, which can detect evidence of past infection. A study of over 60,000 people in Spain found 3.4% of children and teenagers had antibodies to the virus, compared with 4.4% to 6.0% of adults. But Spain’s schools were also closed, which likely reduced children’s exposure.

Another method is to look at what happens to people living in the same household as a known case. The results of these studies are mixed. Some have suggested a lower risk for children, while others have suggested children and adults are at equal risk.

Children might have some protection compared to adults, because they have less of the enzyme which the virus uses to enter the body. So, given the same short exposure, a child might be less likely to be infected than an adult. But prolonged contact probably makes any such advantage moot.

The way in which children and adults interact in the household might explain the differences seen in some studies. This is supported by a new study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children and partners of a known case were more likely to be infected than other people living in the same house. This suggests the amount of close, prolonged contact may ultimately be the deciding factor.

How often do children transmit the virus?

Several studies show children and adults have similar amounts of viral RNA in their nose and throat. This suggests children and adults are equally infectious, although it’s possible children transmit the virus slightly less often than adults in practice. Because children are physically smaller and generally have more mild symptoms, they might release less of the virus.

In Italy, researchers looked at what happened to people who’d been in contact with infected children, and found the contacts of children were more likely to be infected than the contacts of adults with the virus.

Teenagers are of course closer to adults, and it’s possible younger children might be less likely to transmit the virus than older children. However, reports of outbreaks in childcare centres and primary schools suggest there’s still some risk.

What have we seen in schools?

Large clusters have been reported in schools around the world, most notably in Israel. There, an outbreak in a high school affected at least 153 students, 25 staff members, and 87 others. Interestingly, that particular outbreak coincided with an extreme heatwave where students were granted an exemption from having to wear face masks, and air conditioning was used continuously.

At first glance, the Australian experience seems to suggest a small role for children in transmission. A study of COVID-19 in educational settings in New South Wales in the first half of the year found limited evidence of transmission, although a large outbreak was noted to have occurred in a childcare centre.

This might seem reassuring, but it’s important to remember the majority of cases in Australia were acquired overseas at the time of the study, and there was limited community transmission. Also, schools switched to distance learning during the study, after which school attendance dropped to 5%. This suggests school safety is dependent on the level of community transmission.

Additionally, we shouldn’t be reassured by examples where children have not transmitted the virus to others. Approximately 80% of secondary COVID-19 cases are generated by only 10% of people. There are also many examples where adults haven’t transmitted the virus.

As community transmission has grown in Victoria, so has the significance of school clusters. The Al-Taqwa College outbreak remains one of Australia’s largest clusters. Importantly, the outbreak there has been linked to other clusters in Melbourne, including a major outbreak in the city’s public housing towers.

Close schools when community transmission is high

This evidence means we need to take a precautionary approach. When community transmission is low, face-to-face teaching is probably low-risk. But schools should switch to distance learning during periods of sustained community transmission. If we fail to address the risk of school outbreaks, they can spread into the wider community.

While most children won’t become severely ill if they contract the virus, the same cannot be said for their adult family members or their teachers. In the US, 40% of teachers have risk factors for severe COVID-19, as do 28.6 million adults living with school-aged children.

Children walk to school with masks
In the US, 40% of teachers have risk factors for severe COVID-19, as do 28.6 million adults living with school-aged children.
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Recent recommendations on mask-wearing by older and younger children mirror risk-reduction guidelines for schools developed by the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. These guidelines stress the importance of face masks, improving ventilation, and the regular disinfection of shared surfaces.

The changing landscape

As the virus has spread more widely, the demographic profile of cases has changed. The virus is no longer confined to adult travellers and their contacts, and children are now commonly infected. In Germany, the proportion of children in the number of new infections is now consistent with their share of the total population.

While children are thankfully much less likely to experience severe illness than adults, we must consider who children have contact with and how they can contribute to community transmission. Unless we do, we won’t succeed in controlling the pandemic.The Conversation

Zoë Hyde, Senior Research Officer, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

3 education questions the Victorian government should answer at the COVID-19 inquiry



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Julie Sonnemann, Grattan Institute

Today, Victorian Education Minister James Merlino will front the state parliamentary inquiry into the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He should answer these three questions on the handling of schools.

Q 1. How will the government help disadvantaged students catch up?

Victorian children have now been in remote schooling for about 17 weeks or almost two terms — virtually half of their 2020 school year. Many will have fallen behind in their learning, but the most vulnerable students will have been hit hardest.

Our analysis shows the equity gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students grows at triple the rate during remote schooling. Even in the best case scenario — where remote schooling was delivered well — disadvantaged students are likely to have lost at least two months of learning over the period. In schools where remote schooling was of average quality, disadvantaged students are likely to have gone backwards.

The government should be providing extra resources to help vulnerable children catch up fast. This can be done through small-group tutoring and targeted literacy and numeracy programs. The Grattan Institute analysis recommended an investment in these two areas of A$1.2 billion nationally — including over A$350 million in Victoria – at the end of term two. With more remote schooling in term three, the need is now even bigger.

For small-group tuition programs, disadvantaged students would receive regular short sessions in reading and maths, three or four times a week over 12 weeks. Tuition is expensive, but it can increase student learning by an additional five months over one or two terms of schooling.




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Young university graduates and student teachers should be hired as tutors where possible. They make good tutors, and will also be hit harder by the recession than older Australians, which will make them more likely to spend the extra income quickly, stimulating the economy at the same time.

The UK government has already announced £1 billion (A$1.8 billion) of extra support for disadvantaged students, with investments in a new national tutoring scheme. Our governments should spend big, and quickly.

Q 2. What extra money will the government provide to improve students’ mental health?

Many students, especially those with pre-existing mental-health issues, will have found social isolation hard during remote schooling. And many children have had to deal with family hardships due to loss of income, as well as the added stress of remote learning.

The interim inquiry report into the government’s response to COVID-19 highlights that around 25% of secondary schools now have a mental health practitioner on staff, but many are still concerned about inconsistency in accessing support across schools.

A side view of a girl on the couch, with knees to her chest and chin on hand looking away from camera.
Mental health issues have increased among young people during the pandemic.
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Given the increase in demand from young people for mental-health services, the minister should clarify what the average wait times are for students referred, along with plans to ensure they are reasonable in the near future.

Importantly, the minister should demonstrate how the government will support primary school students, not just secondary students. Early mental-health support for children is key to preventing ongoing problems down the track, and primary school is notoriously overlooked in this area.




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More broadly, the minister should demonstrate plans for teachers to have adequate training in how to identify and refer students who may be struggling. This is also highlighted as an area of need in the interim report.

In addition, all students will need extra support to readjust from the period of social isolation. Evidence shows what the teacher does in the classroom, in their routines and everyday teaching, is key to helping students build social and emotional skills.

It’s a sophisticated art, and students can be harmed if teachers don’t do this properly. For example, asking students to talk about the challenges they faced during home learning can be damaging if they suffered negative experiences or trauma. Teachers need to be well trained in these areas.

Q 3. How will the government better support students if there is a third or fourth wave?

We’ve all been caught off guard by the pandemic. But what lessons has the government learnt about remote learning? What will be done better if there is a “next time”?

Asking this question is not a swipe at the minister or anyone else. The Victorian department and teachers have gone above and beyond to support learning from home. But we must be better prepared next time.




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Australia can learn from high-performing countries that were better prepared, even before the first wave hit. As discussed in our June report Recovery Book, Singapore had a fully online curriculum ready to go. And Hong Kong had many more digital resources aligned to the curriculum that could be easily shared. Our systems can, and must, improve.

It will not be good enough for the minister to suggest we don’t yet know enough to make changes. It is OK to have made mistakes, but it is not OK if we’re not learning from them.The Conversation

Julie Sonnemann, Acting Program Director, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘No one would even know if I had died in my room’: coronavirus leaves international students in dire straits



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Alan Morris, University of Technology Sydney; Catherine Hastings, University of Technology Sydney; Emma Mitchell, University of Technology Sydney; Gaby Ramia, University of Sydney, and Shaun Wilson, Macquarie University

Many international students in private rental housing in Sydney and Melbourne were struggling before COVID-19 hit. Our surveys of these students before and during the pandemic show it has made their already precarious situations much worse.

Of those with paid work when the pandemic began, six in ten lost their jobs. Many were struggling to pay rent and tuition fees.




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Our new report is based on two surveys* of several thousand students. To track financial distress, we developed eight indicators from Australian Bureau of Statistics measures for the first survey in late 2019. We used these again for the second survey in mid-2020. The responses are shown below.

Chart showing indicators of financial distress among international students

Author provided

Since the lockdown, students’ responses showed:

  • 29% of respondents had gone without meals (up from 22% prior to lockdown)

  • 26% had pawned or sold something to obtain money (up from 12%)

  • 23% had had trouble paying for electricity on time (up from 11%)

  • 23% had asked community organisations for help (up from 4%).

Our 2019 survey showed about one in five international students in the private rental sector were already in precarious housing situations. The second survey revealed far more were living precariously because of deteriorating finances during the pandemic.




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This article also draws on 26 semi-structured interviews with students to share fresh insights into how they have coped as the pandemic unfolded in Sydney and Melbourne.

Incomes from work and family lost

The central financial issue has been loss of income during the pandemic. Just 15% of students who’d lost jobs had found a new one. Almost two-thirds (63%) of those who still had a job had had their hours cut, most by about 50%.

At the same time, financial support from families decreased for just over four in ten students. Only 12% said it had increased.

Before the pandemic, 50% of respondents reported an income below A$500 a week; after it began, 70% did.

Struggling to pay the rent

Six in ten respondents agreed paying the rent had become more difficult. Since the pandemic, 27% said they were unable to pay the full rent. One in five agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “I feel I could become homeless.”

A VET student described the impact of losing her job on her finances:

I could really save some money in the month of February and March that really, you know, took me until the month of April. So, I was not really worried in April, but then as May started and nearly the middle of May, I was really worried about my account balance. I’d already given multiple calls to different organisations by then for any kind of support.

Half of our respondents reported trying to negotiate a rent reduction: 22% received a reduction and 31% received a reduction or a deferral. Almost half were unsuccessful. A university student from Melbourne outlined her failed attempt to reduce rent:

Yeah, we are worrying [about paying the rent] and like we emailed to our agency to make discount or something like that, but they said it’s hard for them, an agency and landlord too, because the landlord has a mortgage […] and everybody’s struggling and so for now they don’t have any discount […] so we are worried because before that, before this current thing [the pandemic], we had our part-time jobs and the three of us have now lost our jobs.

Two students sitting at a table together and working out a problem
In some share houses, all the students have lost their jobs and don’t know how they’ll pay the rent.
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Tracking the rise of room sharing and overcrowding, and what it means for housing in Australia


A vocational education and training (VET) student from Sydney, who lost her job in March, described how she was treated when she couldn’t pay the full rent:

So I was not able to pay my full rent [… ]because of that they [the agent] were like, ‘Okay, don’t pay rent if you don’t have any money, we’ll understand.’ […] Then all of a sudden by mid-April they were like, ‘Hey, you have this much outstanding rent and you have to pay it immediately, otherwise the landlord is going to file the case to the tribunal.’ And I was shocked, and it was out of nowhere, and I told them, ‘You were the one who told me you didn’t have to pay rent if you don’t have it.‘

Studies and well-being suffer too

Students are struggling on several fronts. One student remarked:

Yeah, it’s crazy. It’s hard sometimes so that I’m not sleeping and then you have to do school work as well and then you have to think about these things like managing, talking to agents every day and negotiating and searching for jobs. There’s just a lot of things coming together.

Six in ten respondents agreed or strongly agreed financial stress was affecting their studies. Over half (54%) reported financial difficulties and 44% worried they might not be able to pay tuition fees.

I’ve also been trying to get fees reduction but every time it has always been like a negative response. So it has actually been pretty difficult […] especially with we’re not getting the same quality of education.

Just over a third (35%) worried they might have to leave Australia before completing their studies.

Respondents did not feel governments had supported them. State government support was rated good or excellent by 17%, and only 13% felt that way about federal government support.

One university student said:

In this current pandemic the Australian government has made it more clear that they don’t really care about the [international] students. I don’t know why is that. It’s pretty much heartbreaking considering the input of them in the Australian economy.




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COVID-19 increases risk to international students’ mental health. Australia urgently needs to step up


Loneliness on the rise

Loneliness was already a significant problem and it has worsened during the pandemic. Just under a third of respondents said they felt lonely before the pandemic, but 63% felt lonelier since the pandemic.

A university student in Sydney said:

I think no one would even know if I had died in my room if it wasn’t for a month when my landlady would come and ask for rent. Other than that, no one would even know.

Our research is revealing just how precarious the lives of international students have become. Policymakers should heed the evidence and consider how to make Australia a better place to study.


* The first survey was distributed by 43 educational institutions (24 VET, ten universities, seven English language and two foundation course institutions) to their international students in late 2019. It received 7,084 responses. The second was distributed in June-July 2020 to 3,114 respondents of the first survey who had agreed to face-to-face interviews and to be recontacted. The second survey received 852 responses.The Conversation

Alan Morris, Professor, Institute of Public Policy and Governance, University of Technology Sydney; Catherine Hastings, Assistant Researcher, Institute for Public Policy and Governance, University of Technology Sydney; Emma Mitchell, Assistant Researcher, Institute for Public Policy and Governance, University of Technology Sydney; Gaby Ramia, Associate Professor in Public Policy, Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney, and Shaun Wilson, Associate Professor of Sociology, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Every Victorian Year 12 student will have COVID-19 factored into their grade — we should do it for all Australian students



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Ilana Finefter-Rosenbluh, Monash University; Christine Grové, Monash University, and Kelly-Ann Allen, Monash University

Over the weekend, Victorian Education Minister, James Merlino, announced the individual impact of COVID-19 will be taken into account for every Year 12 student in the state when calculating their VCE score and ATAR.

Under usual circumstances, individual students are assessed for special consideration on a case by case basis. But this year, the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) will introduce a “Consideration of Educational Disadvantage” process to recalculate VCE scores for every student, individually.

The authority may consider, alongside a range of formal data such as exam results, a student’s General Achievement Test (GAT), their expected achievement levels before the impact of coronavirus, and school assessments completed prior to remote and flexible learning.

At the heart of these announcements is an acknowledgement of individual differences. The premier’s website says it may also include

assessing the individual impact of coronavirus on each student, including school closures, direct impacts on the health of a student, students dealing with substantial extra family responsibilities, ongoing issues with remote learning and mental health challenges.

This kind of individual assessment is what educational advocates have been calling on for decades.

How COVID-19 has affected students

Victoria’s decision is intended to support worried students and soften the blow of the graduation implications complicated by the pandemic. Its social, emotional and psychological effects are being recognised alongside academic pressures.

Teachers and school leaders have put forth their best efforts to ensure all students have transitioned to online learning effectively. But the unexpected change may have led already vulnerable students, such as from lower socio-economic backgrounds who may not have reliable access to internet, towards further disadvantage.

Students already disengaged from school may have become more disengaged during remote learning. Teachers who completed a survey in Australia during the last remote learning period said many of their students were not logging in to remote classes or completing their school work. Teacher participants in another survey said student disengagement and equity were a key concern.

Teachers have also expressed concern about the emotional toll of remote learning on students.




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Not all students have experienced adversity as a result of COVID-19. There are many who have thrived in home learning environments. Students who would typically experience social or separation anxiety resulting in school refusal, for instance, have found the online way of learning works better.

The initiatives taken by governments, such as the latest Victorian announcement, acknowledge the necessity to go beyond dry numbers and to account for individual differences — a step towards a more inclusive education.

It’s a human right

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals establish the core underpinnings of quality education. Specifically, goal number four is to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.




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Victoria’s Year 12 students are learning remotely. But they won’t necessarily fall behind


Inclusive education is where all students of all capabilities have the opportunity to learn and express their abilities. Inclusion takes into account student circumstances, such as individual learning needs and health. These include well-being and behavioural challenges.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) committee has noted:

education has to be flexible so it can adapt to the needs of changing societies and communities and respond to the needs of students within their diverse social and cultural settings.

How can we do this?

Studies show teachers see school assessment as isolated, offering a limited understanding of the teaching and learning environment. Including as many aspects as possible in assessment processes seems to be more important now than ever. This might involve harnessing student perspectives or inviting parents into the conversation regarding their child’s progress.

Policymakers will assure student equity by providing clear grading guidelines. These can include acknowledgement of the need for special examination arrangements not only during a pandemic. They could enable the support of a health-care worker during a test, for instance.

Universities could also work with secondary schools and agree to consider entrance exams or portfolios that are relevant to the courses students are applying for.




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Some people may be concerned the government proposal will not result in fair outcomes across the board. But for assessment to be truly fair, each student must receive the individual level of support they need.

The unfolding developments of the pandemic have opened a door for a more inclusive assessment in schools. Perhaps it is time to reconsider this practice beyond the special circumstances of an outbreak and beyond VCE students, to include all year 12 students this year, and every year.The Conversation

Ilana Finefter-Rosenbluh, Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Monash University; Christine Grové, Senior Lecturer and Educational and Developmental Psychologist, Monash University, and Kelly-Ann Allen, Educational and Developmental Psychologist and Senior Lecturer, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Victoria’s Year 12 students are learning remotely. But they won’t necessarily fall behind



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Sarah Prestridge, Griffith University and Donna Pendergast, Griffith University

In early July, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced government school students in prep to Year 10 — in Metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire —would learn from home for term three. Students in Years 11 and 12, as well as those in Year 10 attending VCE or VCAL classes, and students with special needs, would learn face to face.

The exemption for students doing VCE subjects to go class was made to ensure the least amount of disruption to the final years of schooling.

From today, however, after the announcement of harsher, Stage 4 restrictions for metropolitan Melbourne and Stage 3 restrictions for the rest of Victoria, students in Years 11 and 12 will learn remotely with every other student in the state.




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So, will remote learning at the end of schooling mean Victorian students will fall behind the rest of the country?

Setting up Year 12s for further learning

Year 12 marks the end of school and the shift to work and further education for most students.

The Year 12 journey is sprinkled with milestones and rites of passage: the school formal, leadership opportunities, gaining independence with a new driver’s license and for many, turning 18 and being regarded as an adult.

In classrooms, learning is highly regulated by the teacher. Whereas in vocational education and training, and university, learning is rapidly moving to a more online, independent, mode. Even before the pandemic, post-school education required students to be more self-directed learners than they were at school.

This year’s Year 12 students won’t experience many common milestones and rites of passage. But many will have gained significant experiences of learning online, and independently — beyond what they ordinarily would have — which will set them up for similar learning beyond school.




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The chance to develop online learning capabilities while being supported by their school teachers will give Year 12s learning remotely a real advantage.

Year 12s like learning independently

We conducted a survey of students who experienced remote schooling during March and April this year at an independent school in Queensland. Overall 1,032 students completed the survey, across prep to Year 12.

Just over 41% of students, overall, said they found learning at home stressful. But this was generally not the case for students in Year 12. Year 12 students were keen for the flexibility to learn at their own pace, and being free to determine the order of study each week, rather than follow a timetable set by the school.

Younger students find remote learning more stressful than do Year 12s.
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Year 12 students said they preferred to concentrate on one subject a day and to work intensely.

Generally Year 12 students said they disliked live video sessions and found them disruptive to their study flow. While 75% of Grade 7 students valued form class or home room live sessions, only 16% of Grade 12 students did. They preferred to spend their time focusing on given subject materials.

Is online learning inferior to face to face?

Studies have suggested online learning is likely to be less effective than classroom education over the longer-term. But there is also evidence to suggest the impact may be negligible in the short term.

Other studies suggest there is no significant difference in learning outcomes between students in distance education (when students live too far from the school to attend in person) and face-to-face learning.

But there are significant variations in outcomes within each approach. This means a student’s ability to learn online, the design of the online learning environment and even the amount of time needed for students to get familiar with learning online can affect their outcomes.




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Students have been conditioned for over 12 years to learn in classrooms from a teacher. This can make it difficult for them to become familiar with new ways of learning.

A major issue associated with online learning is a student’s ability to regulate themselves. This means being able to stay on task especially when a problem arises. Being unfamiliar with new ways of accessing and interpreting online environments and subject content, as well as working with peers online in communication spaces, presents new challenges for students.

However, the problem may again have to do with age. In our survey, mentioned above, 75% Year 12 students believed they were able to work through a problem productively online. This was higher than the other high-school year levels.

Tips for Year 12 students

There are many advantages to learning online. Students can work at their own pace, revise and review teacher made videos for examples, and engage with extensive notes and study guides to help with assessment and exams.

Students can also access their teachers in more varied ways and at different times of day. In other words, moving online for Year 12 students can provide a world of resources and access to teachers they have not experienced before.




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To make the most of their Year 12 experience, students should keep these simple tips in mind:

  • organise your learning week. Set up your own timetable of tasks to complete. Include breaks and time to relax

  • be an active learner. Make notes while listening to teacher made videos and written materials

  • contact a friend if you have a problem, and work through the issue together

  • use the communication tools available to tell your teachers and friends what you are thinking about

  • participate in live sessions and forums as much as you can.


Correction: this article previously had an incorrect statement about ATAR calculation. This has now been removed.The Conversation

Sarah Prestridge, Senior Lecturer, Griffith University and Donna Pendergast, Dean, School of Educational and Professional Studies, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Exhausted beyond measure’: what teachers are saying about COVID-19 and the disruption to education



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Louise Phillips, James Cook University and Melissa Cain, Australian Catholic University

All Victorian school students will be learning remotely from Wednesday. Prior to the state’s premier Daniel Andrews announcing a tightening of restrictions over the weekend, only students in prep to Year 10 in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire were learning from home.

But on Wednesday, schools will close for Year 11 and 12 students in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire, as well as every student across Victoria — except for students in special schools and children of essential workers.

Like with the last remote learning period in Australia, the current uncertainty in Victoria might cause disarray and stress among teachers, parents and students.




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In response to the closures in April, with seven other researchers across Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the US, we designed a survey that asked teachers 16 open-ended questions about how COVID-19 affected them and their students.

The teachers ranged from early childhood education through to school and university. We also included other educators, such as at museums.

The survey opened on May 4, 2020 while most countries in the survey engaged in home-based learning. There have been 621 responses to date. Of these, 179 are from Australian teachers, with 65% having over 21 years teaching experience, from which this article reports.


Number of respondents, by sector.
Author provided

Our survey gained rich responses about the sudden closure of schools, transition to online learning, and the difficulties of negotiating social-distancing and increased hygiene maintenance.

Relentless workload

When asked, “How has COVID-19 impacted your teaching and learning?”, responses most commonly referred to technical issues, then the pragmatics of teaching and workload.

Overwhelmingly, teachers from early childhood to higher education experienced a significant increase in their workload. One teacher said the sudden change to online learning created “endless paperwork and programming issues” and “has been relentless”.

Another said

It’s definitely added significantly to my workload and taken the holiday time that would normally provide some respite, meaning I am closer to burnout than ever.

Social distancing requirements also increased teachers’ workload, creating “lots of additional cleaning requirements and having to collect children from the carpark as families are not allowed to enter”.

One teacher said

It is draining. Exhausting. Time consuming. The work never stops.

‘I don’t want to teach anymore’

The impact on the mental and physical health of teachers was the next most frequently expressed — after the technical, pragmatic and workload issues.

One teacher told us:

I struggle to sleep at night for thinking about work all the time. I’m very stressed and anxious; my physical health has been impacted.

Another said:

It has challenged everything I enjoy about teaching.

And another wrote:

All the teachers I work with are EXHAUSTED beyond measure.

Teachers said a lack of voice and agency in decision making made them feel “unmotivated” or “unvalued”.

(we) may have felt more supported had we been consulted and listened to by management and government.

One teacher wrote:

In the beginning, I felt I could have dropped dead at home and my workplace wouldn’t even notice.

Another said:

Going through this, not feeling safe, and then seeing teachers belittled in the media, has made me come to the realisation that I don’t want to teach anymore.

‘It was a scramble’

When asked, “What are the issues you are struggling with and need support with?” some teachers mentioned the management and decision-making concerning school closures.

The word cloud below shows the most frequent words in response to the question.


Most frequent words in response to ‘What are the issues you are struggling with and need support with?’


One teacher said:

Our school closed down at the end of term one. It was a scramble and our management made some decisions which made life harder for teachers.

One early childhood and childcare teacher said:

The government has largely ignored the realities of EC [early childhood] environments, the impossibility of social distancing with children under five, and the fact we have high exposure to bodily fluids.

But the most frequently mentioned struggle for teachers in Australia was maintaining quality in pedagogy and curriculum delivery. Teachers are worried the quality of education might be compromised during this uncertain time.

One teacher said:

We are in social repair time. And you know what — no one cares what we are doing in our rooms — just get through ‘til term’s end.

The teachers named student disengagement, uncompleted work and the disparity of access to online materials as the key challenges to quality.




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The second most frequent struggle was insufficient time to attend to teaching and learning demands. Many reported working 60% to three times more hours than they were contracted and paid. The sudden shift to online required teachers to self manage production and delivery of online teaching and learning materials, without adequate training and resourcing.

In the longer term, this sudden change in education may lead us to think of innovation in the area. But for now, teachers, schools and students are just trying to survive, and they need all the resources necessary to make it through this year — and beyond.The Conversation

Louise Phillips, Associate Professor in Education, James Cook University and Melissa Cain, Lecturer in Inclusive Education and Arts Education, Australian Catholic University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Will school temperature checks curb the spread of coronavirus?



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Fiona Russell, University of Melbourne and Kathleen Ryan, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

This week, most students in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire returned to remote learning for term 3.

Students whose parents can’t work from home are allowed to receive remote learning from school, as was the case during the first lockdown.

But this time, students in years 11 and 12, students in year 10 undertaking VCE or the applied learning equivalent, and specialist school students, are attending school for face-to-face learning.

This move recognises older students are more likely to be able to social distance than younger students, ensures senior students are supported during their VCE, and acknowledges the particular difficulties of remote learning for students with special needs.

In announcing this new model, the Victorian government also revealed daily temperature checks would be introduced for all students attending school face-to-face in term 3.




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The details

The Victorian government pledged to supply schools in Melbourne, Mitchell Shire and surrounding areas with more than 14,000 non-contact infrared thermometers. These are the type of thermometer positioned from a distance, generally towards a person’s forehead, to take their temperature.

In the case a student records a temperature of 37.5℃ or above, the school will contact the student’s parent or guardian to take the child home, and encourage them get a COVID-19 test.

While some Victorian students are back at school, most are learning from home again.
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The temperature checks are designed to detect fever as an indicator of possible SARS-CoV-2 infection. But there are a couple of things we need to keep in mind when considering how useful temperature checks will be.

First, these types of thermometers won’t always reliably detect fever. And second, many children with COVID-19 won’t have a fever.

Sensitivity and specificity

A few key features are important when screening for disease. In the case of non-contact infrared thermometers, the “disease” we’re screening for is fever.

First, a tool should be able to correctly identify those with the disease (sensitivity). Second, a tool should correctly identify those without the disease (specificity). Third, a tool should have high probability that a person with a positive result does have the disease (positive predictive value, or PPV).

Testing of non-contact infrared thermometers has reported wide variation on each of these measures. One review found sensitivity ranged from 4%-89.6% and specificity from 75.4%-99.6%. Where one in 100 people had a fever, the PPV was between 3.55%-65.4%.




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Non-contact infrared thermometers measure skin (peripheral) temperature without physical contact, which offers a convenient option for temperature checking large numbers of children.

But their readings can be affected by factors such as outdoor temperature, where on the body you aim the thermometer, and distance from the subject.

We also need to remember fever reducing medications, such as paracetamol, can lower a child’s temperature.

Combined, these factors indicate non-contact infrared thermometers may not be very reliable in detecting a fever (regardless of whether or not the fever is related to COVID-19).

Do children with COVID-19 have fever?

A review of studies found fever was the most common symptom in children and young people under 21 with COVID-19, recorded in 47% of cases. Other symptoms include cough (37%) and diarrhoea (4%).

Two reviews explored asymptomatic infection in children, reporting 14% and 19% of children had no symptoms at all.

This means fever screening may miss more than half of infected children in schools, as they could either have no symptoms, have symptoms that don’t include fever, or have fever not detected by the non-contact infrared thermometers.

Schools in other countries are also checking students’ temperatures.
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Do children transmit COVID-19 in schools?

Initial reports suggested children don’t transmit SARS-CoV-2 as much as adults, however evidence in this space is still evolving.

A NSW government report found no student-to-teacher transmission and very low student-to-student transmission.

Conversely, one of Victoria’s largest outbreaks to date occurred at a P-12 school; staff, students, and close contacts have tested positive. But it’s not yet clear how much transmission can be attributed to school activities as opposed to household and community transmission.




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A recent study from South Korea found within the home, ten to 19-year-old children transmit the virus as much as adults, whereas children aged under ten transmit less than adults.

While this paper focused on household transmission, a recent study from Israel reported on an outbreak in a secondary school. It found overcrowded classrooms, lack of mask wearing and air conditioning use were likely to be contributing factors.

Schools around the world

Among countries that have now returned to school, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam have implemented fever screening.

France, Belgium, Germany and Israel have differing requirements for use of face masks among students and teachers.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends parents check their child’s temperature before or upon arrival at school.




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The use of non-contact infrared thermometers to identify children who could have COVID-19 may not be reliable.

But at the very least, this tool provides a visible important reminder to parents, staff and students of the risk of COVID-19, and for children to remain at home if they’re unwell.The Conversation

Fiona Russell, Principal research fellow, University of Melbourne and Kathleen Ryan, Research Fellow, Asia-Pacific Health, Infection and Immunity Theme, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus: how likely are international university students to choose Australia over the UK, US and Canada?



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Gavin Moodie, RMIT University

Australian universities are suffering revenue and job losses due to the current and projected loss of international students. A Mitchell Institute report has estimated the sector may lose up to A$19 billion in the next three years, while modelling from Universities Australia shows more than 20,000 jobs are at risk over six months, and more after that.

On April 3, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said international students in Australia could return home if they could not support themselves. Commentators feared such a flippant attitude would cause Australia to lose its world class reputation if it didn’t come to the aid of international students.

Months of tension with China (the biggest source of Australian university international students, at a third of the total) threatened to further jeopardise our international standing.

On Monday, the Australian government announced it will restart granting international student visas and allow current students to count online study while overseas in a push to restart international education.

But how do we compare with some of Australia’s largest competitors?

Closed campuses

Australia imposed a ban on travel from China on February 1, stranding an estimated 87,000 students abroad who were due to start their academic year in Australia in March.

By that time it was the middle of the second, or winter, semester for Australia’s big English language competitors in the northern hemisphere: the USA, UK and Canada. Most of these countries’ international students stayed to complete their semester, so universities did not suffer an immediate fall in revenue.

But universities in these countries did incur substantial additional costs as many completed the semester by transferring teaching online at short notice.




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While online education meets similar standards to campus-based education, students prefer face-to-face learning. This is particularly true for international students, who see immersion in a different culture as one of the main benefits of studying overseas.

In May, many US and UK universities announced bullish plans to teach their first semester in autumn, starting in September, face-to-face (or mask-to-mask). There were various provisions for plexiglass, physical distancing, masks and regular testing.

But even partial campus reopening plans were never credible in the US when they were announced. Still, many universities in the competitor countries sought to maximise international enrolments by maintaining at least a substantial part of their campuses would be open by September.

The US

US universities no longer seem to be nearly as strong competitors for international students. While the number of new COVID-19 cases has bumpily fallen in Australia, Canada and the UK, they have been increasing in the US.

When it became clear US universities could not responsibly open their campuses, they started reversing their announcements of opening fully in September.

Princeton University. It’s unlikely many US universities will be able to offer full on-campus education in their first autumn semester.
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By July 20 some 53% of 1,215 US universities surveyed still planned to teach in person in September, 11% planned online education, 32% planned a mix of online and in person education, and 4% were considering a range of scenarios or had not yet decided their education mode.

US President Donald Trump sought to pressure universities to open fully by making studying at least partly on campus a condition of international students’ visas. He soon reversed that order, but may issue an alternative seeking the same effect.

US attractiveness as an international study destination is likely to be further reduced by the instability in universities’ plans, the uncertainty of federal immigration conditions, and continuing restrictions on entry from China and elsewhere.

The United Kingdom

Australian universities are in a much more similar position to UK universities, which are long time and powerful rivals for international students. They are expecting to lose substantially from COVID-19’s suppression of international enrolments.

Unlike Australia, the UK government has granted universities access to government-backed support such as a job retention scheme which includes short-term contracts, and business loan support.




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The UK government has also brought forward teaching payments and block research grants, and increased funds for students in financial difficulty.

Unlike Australia, the UK does not impose international travel restrictions but requires entrants from most countries including China and India to self-isolate for a fortnight after entry. It will therefore remain a more attractive destination for new students until Australia lifts or at least relaxes its travel restrictions.

Canada

Canadian universities and colleges have some distinct advantages over their competitors for international students. They enjoy considerable financial and other support from their national and provincial governments.

While Canada’s average proportion of new COVID-19 cases is similar to Australia’s and the UK’s, these are concentrated in the biggest cities of Toronto, Montreal and their environs. The Atlantic provinces have Tasmanian levels of COVID-19 cases, and some of their universities attract very high proportions of international students.

The University of Toronto. Canada’s universities have received more support from their government than Australia’s.
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Canada’s biggest competitive disadvantage is that while it will admit returning international students, it currently is not admitting new students for the foreseeable future.

The Canadian government will grant permits to international students who study online from abroad, and like Australia this will count towards their eligibility for a post-graduation work permit. The government has also introduced a temporary two-stage approval process for international students to expedite their approval to enter to study on campus when this is permitted.




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But Canada is not likely to be a desirable destination for new international students until the government and then institutions can give a firm timetable and clear plans for studying on campus.

So, what should Australia do?

To remain competitive compared to the UK, Australian universities should keep prospective students updated on the issues that affect their study decisions such as entry requirements, start dates, and study and accommodation conditions. This communication should be targeted towards education agents and their clients, and be specific to individual students.

Few students and their parents are convinced about the value and quality of online education. And they fear much of the benefit of immersion in an English speaking university environment would be lost if spatial distancing required social distancing.

Australian universities will have to be as clear as they can about the benefits of the study and living conditions students are likely to experience here.The Conversation

Gavin Moodie, Adjunct professor, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.