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


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.

‘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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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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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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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.

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.
Shutterstock

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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Why is the Australian government letting universities suffer?


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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Interactive: international students make up more than 30% of population in some Australian suburbs


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.

Students in China heed their government’s warnings against studying in Australia – less than half plan to come back



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Marina Yue Zhang, Swinburne University of Technology

Only 40% of students in China who previously intended to study overseas still plan to, while just under 50% of those who had studied overseas plan to return to their study after the borders reopen.

These are results from our unpublished survey of 1,012 students we conducted in China between June 5 and 15. We asked them whether they would continue with their plan to study abroad post COVID-19.

These findings are not surprising. Due to growing tensions between China and the West – even before COVID-19 – middle-class parents in China had become increasingly concerned about the safety of, and possible discrimination against, their children abroad, including in the US and Australia.

The pandemic seems to have accelerated this trend.

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What students say about studying in Australia

Of the 1,012 students we surveyed, 404 had registered to study abroad in the next three years (in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore) and 608 had been studying overseas (including in Australia, US, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Japan) before COVID-19 .

In the questionnaire, we presented interviewees with considerations and asked them to nominate which ones would influence their decision about whether to study in Australia after COVID-19, as well as in other countries.




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‘I love Australia’: 3 things international students want Australians to know


The first group (group A) includes 304 students who had studied in Australia but who were not able to return due to travel restrictions.

Of these, 50% were undergraduates, 42% graduates, 5% doctoral students, and 3% vocational education or high school students.

The second group (group B) includes students who had never studied abroad before but had registered their intention to in the next three years, including in Australia, before COVID-19.

The second group also answered Australia-specific questions.



Not many students in either group considered issues such as more expensive air travel, less freedom in China and online lectures as critical factors influencing their decision to study in Australia.

But the two groups reacted to some factors quite differently. The students who had studied in Australia before considered the following factors as more critical to their decision:

  • returnees with Australian degrees are not more competitive in China’s job market compared to graduates from top-tier universities in China

  • life is more convenient, safe and easier at home and I don’t want to go abroad to endure the hardship as a foreign student

  • improved political stability and economic prospects in China

  • less of a chance of landing a good job with an Australian degree in China

  • no need to go abroad if lectures are delivered online.

The group of students who hadn’t yet studied in Australia but planned to, considered the following factors as critical:

  • media reported cases of Chinese being “discriminated against” or “abused” in Australia

  • deterioration in Sino-Australia relations

  • not many outstanding returnees from Australia are visible in the media to represent the success of Australian education

  • Australian universities lowered the entry standard for foreign students due to COVID-19

  • Australian degrees are perceived to be less valuable compared to degrees from other English-speaking countries, especially the US and the UK, by HR personnel in China.

What the students said

Not surprisingly, both groups considered the Chinese government’s warnings against visiting, or studying in, Australia important. A decision to study and live abroad is often made by the whole family in China. Official voices weigh significantly in such decisions.

A student who had done some of her master degree in a Melbourne university said:

After the Chinese New Year, Australian borders were closed to Chinese students due to COVID-19. Direct travel was not allowed. So I travelled to Thailand and spent 14 days in a small hotel in Bangkok before I landed in Melbourne. I had to be self-quarantined for 14 days in my rented room.

Then I found all lectures were moved online and the situation of COVID-19 became serious in Melbourne. The PM urged international students to go home. My parents were so worried. They paid for an over-priced air ticket and a quarantine-hotel in Shanghai for me for 14 days before I could go back to my hometown.

When the [Chinese] government announced the travel and study warnings, I couldn’t convince my parents that things aren’t that bad in Australia. They listened to the government and believed the ‘official voices’ rather than their own daughter.

There have been cases (though isolated ones) of Asians or Chinese people being bullied in Australia due to COVID-19. Unfortunately, social media in China often distorts such cases and amplifies the (mis)perceptions. And the tensions between China and Australia have enhanced these negative perceptions.

Sending their children abroad was once a privilege for elites with intellectual, economic or political power in China. But this is now quite common among middle-class Chinese families.

Chinese families spend a large amount of money on their children’s education. Better opportunities (either in the host country or on returning home) after study abroad is an underlining reason Chinese families invest in their children.




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Australia has attracted many Chinese students in recent decades. But if Chinese students with Australian degrees are less appreciated or less competitive compared to those who study in other countries or in local universities, families will look for other options.

A Chinese student who had been studying at a Sydney university told us:

We are the clients and the degrees are a commodity; we pay for our degrees. What if the commodity loses its value? The clients will surely walk away.

COVID-19 has had a negative impact on the number of Chinese students likely to study in Australia. But the downward trend started way before the pandemic.

Australian universities need to adjust their strategies for a future that will not only deliver value for Chinese students, but also strengthen a positive perception about this value.The Conversation

Marina Yue Zhang, Associate Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Swinburne University of Technology

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

‘I love Australia’: 3 things international students want Australians to know



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Angela Lehmann, Australian National University

A recent statement from China’s education bureau warned Chinese students about studying in Australia due to “racist incidents” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Such statements, and further moves from China’s education agents threatening to redirect students towards international competitors such as the United Kingdom, can negatively affect Australia as a study destination. Australia’s universities are already reeling from the loss of international students due to COVID-19.

There have been reports some international students from China have defended Australia as a study destination. I have been conducting in-depth interviews with ten international students in Australia about their experiences and concerns throughout COVID-19.

They too have, mostly, positive things to say.

Here are three things they believe Australia should know as we plan our recovery.

1. Australians must be more welcoming

Negative experiences of international students are more dangerous to long-term recovery than border closures and flight restrictions. At a time of increased unemployment and pessimistic economic forecasts, we risk anti-foreigner sentiment growing.

Students I spoke with reported this was already happening. One student from Peru said he had “had quite racist comments like ‘go back to your country’”. Another, from India, spoke at length about part-time jobs now being “offered only to Australian citizens. I was told not to even bring in a CV”.




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On April 4, the prime minister called for temporary visa holders to “go home” if they couldn’t support themselves.

Each student I spoke with said this was the point in time when they went from feeling a part of their community, to feeling unwelcome.

One Indian student told me:

I have seen a rise in anti-Chinese sentiment and anti-Asian sentiment. I have seen my Japanese flatmate have abuse yelled at her on the street. Calling her a “filthy Asian” and things like this.

Another student spoke about Labor Senator Kristina Kenneally’s call to “reset” Australia’s temporary migration intake and give Australians a “fair go”.

She said:

Definitely, there is a growing anti-immigrant sentiment here. The talk from people in the Australian government that we should be “getting our jobs back for Australians” is constructed in a way to inherently disadvantage people like me, or immigrants. Because it is government policy it will infiltrate across the country and it’s hard to tackle that on an individual level.

Each student suggested Australia’s reputation as a welcoming, safe and diverse place was what was going to shape how parents and prospective students made decisions about where to study after the crisis.

2. International students are integrated in Australian society

The students I spoke with are looking to integrate in local communities as a central part of their overseas experience. They felt they contributed to various parts of Australian society – as tourists and volunteers.

International students want to be ingrained in Australian society.
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And many played an active role in promoting Australia and their city internationally.

Daniel, from Peru, is based at a regional Queensland university. He volunteers with a local men’s mental health organisation. He’s taken over the weekly Spanish language program on the local radio station and, until the shutdown, worked part time at a bar and volunteered with a research program measuring local water quality.

He said:

Something I have learned here is about a sense of community, about being kind to others. I love Australia and the people I have met so far. Once all this is over, I will go back to my home country and teach them about what I have learned here.

3. The government needs to signal its support through clear policy

International students want clear policy responses and acknowledgement of the valuable role they play in Australia.

Australia’s flattened curve undoubtably works in our favour, giving us an advantage over the United States and the UK.

However, the government’s support and welfare may shape how parents and prospective students make future decisions.

Clear policy responses matter now. They offer a signal to students – current and future – that Australia recognises the importance of international students, and they are a welcome and supported part of our communities.

An example is Australia’s reluctance to guarantee international students will not be penalised from being eligible for a Temporary Graduate Visa if studying online. This visa allows graduates of Australian universities to stay on and work, and is essential to attracting students. Currently students are restricted around the amount of offshore study they can do to be eligible.




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Canada made such an adjustment early on, announcing international students could complete 50% of their study online without it impacting their eligibility to eventually apply for a post-study work permit.

One Indian student told me:

I don’t think Indian students will be deterred from their goal to study abroad and to better their lives. But a lot of where they decide to do this depends on how the government reacts and responds. A lot of students are probably going to start looking at Europe and Canada as a better destination because of the policies they have. Canada has been doing a really great job at protecting its international student community.

International students value human connection and their expectations and contributions extend beyond the lecture hall. They are looking for responses and a recovery strategy that acknowledges this.The Conversation

Angela Lehmann, Honorary Lecturer, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

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

No big packed lectures allowed if we’re to safely bring uni students back to campus



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Geoff Hanmer, University of Adelaide

A return to face to face teaching at universities and technical colleges “where possible” is one of the goals of the Morrison government’s three step framework for a COVIDsafe Australia.

A look at the space available for teaching shows some return of students is possible.

But nearly all tiered lecture theatres will not comply with the social distancing rule of staying 1.5m apart, assuming they are seated at capacity. Those lectures will have to remain online or the rules around class sizes will need to change.

Back to the campus

Universities moved teaching operations off campus to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Many lectures and tutorials are now done online.

The campuses have been quiet since teaching moved online.
Flickr/Gordon Wrigley, CC BY

Universities have the challenge of working out how to safely get staff, students (and researchers) back to campus.




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But the teaching space data from eight Australian universities reveals a number of problems in returning to campus while meeting social distancing rules. Some of these can be overcome, but others, including the key goal of increasing face to face teaching, will be much harder.

Until we reach Step 3, when up to 100 people may be permitted to gather in one space, opening up a campus is impractical. Under Steps 1 and 2 only 20 people are allowed in one space.

Come up to the lab

It should be possible to reestablish most laboratory based teaching and research to meet Step 3 guidelines without too many complications. The space data shows most laboratories provide about 4m² per person on average, although space between benches in some older labs may pose issues.

Where open plan offices are being used, they will have to meet social distancing rules.

Most university open plan offices have a density that is significantly lower than the 4m² average set by the guidelines, although achieving the 1.5m distancing rule may require some adaptations, such as additional screens.

Staff will be needed on campus as students return, but simple provisions similar to that used in retail shops, including floor signs and barriers, will be adequate to achieve the distancing guidelines. The continuing trend to move student services online will also help.

Cramped lecture rooms

Teaching space is much more problematic. The space data shows it is not possible to deliver conventional lectures in most existing tiered auditoriums during Step 3 restrictions. The absolute limit of 100 students in one space, narrow seat aisles and close seat spacing make them difficult to adapt.

Online lectures will still be necessary for the foreseeable future.

It is possible to deliver small group teaching, in groups of 19 to 100, but the space data we examined show only about one-third of non-lecture and non-laboratory teaching hours could be delivered on campus across a typical 50-hour week.

The smallest room that could accommodate a group of 19 students and an academic is 80m² under Step 3 guidelines. Only about 20% of campus teaching spaces are big enough although this percentage does vary from campus to campus.

Universities will need to move the furniture to keep students safely distanced apart.
Flickr/Dan Munnerley, CC BY-NC-ND

Successfully delivering small group teaching will probably require a lot of work on existing course structures and plenty of furniture relocation. But the opportunity to provide this type of teaching to the limit of capacity will be valuable in supporting retention and improving student experience.

Students love campus life

A campus is the largest capital investment a university makes and there are valid reasons why this is so. Attrition, retention and student experience data all suggest face to face teaching and other aspects of campus life are effective ways to attract, engage and retain undergraduate students.

A campus is also essential to deliver laboratory-based research. STEM research accounts for the majority of university research income and delivers many useful things, including perhaps a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.

The timing of Step 3 is in the hands of state governments. For example, Queensland says it will move to Step 3 on July 10 while Tasmania has chosen July 13.

By the start of Semester 2 in late July or early August, it is probable that most states will have moved to Step 3.

UNSW, which moved to a three term model last year, will commence Term 2 on June 1, too early for Step 3.

Getting to campus

Another challenge though for universities is that of getting staff and students to campus on time. The capacity of public transport has been severely reduced by social distancing rules under Step 3.




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In many cases it will not be practical to operate a campus with a full student or staff load.

Because campus populations are likely to be considerably reduced for a significant period of time, the challenges currently faced by on campus shops, food outlets and recreational facilities will continue.

The faint silver lining to all of this could be a long-term shift towards small group teaching, supplemented by high quality online materials, rather than reverting to the large lecture as we knew it.The Conversation

Students will need to keep their distance at campus cafes and shops.
Flickr/Kaya, CC BY-NC-ND

Geoff Hanmer, Adjunct Professor of Architecture, University of Adelaide

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

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



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Hannah Soong, University of South Australia

The Victorian and ACT governments in recent days released support packages for international students facing hardship due to COVID-19.

Victoria has committed A$45 million under which international students could be eligible for relief payments of up to $1,100, co-contributed by Victorian universities. The ACT has committed A$450,000 to support vulnerable people on temporary visas and international students without income due to COVID-19.

The Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia all have varying amounts of help available for international students – whether it be one-off payments, free mental health support or help with food and shelter.

These moves by the states are in stark contrast to the federal government. International students, most of whom are on temporary visas, have been excluded from the goverment’s A$130 billion stimulus package. And Prime Minister Scott Morrison said international students unable to support themselves could return to their home countries.

Such comments can put a sizeable dent in Australia’s international education reputation. The way Australia supports international students studying here now may cement its global reputation as a country of choice to study.

Recent reports show Australia’s competitors for international students – Britain, New Zealand, Canada and Ireland – have offered support to those in hardship. This includes access to government welfare and flexibility on visas.




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Even before this pandemic, international students were exposed to several unique hardships. These are compounded by COVID-19.

Not only are they stranded in a foreign country unable or unsure about going home, many have no or little support from family or close friends in Australia.

It is therefore critical for Australian universities to act collectively, swiftly and decisively to provide a model of care for international students’ well-being. And it’s important for the Prime Minister to show he understands their unique vulnerabilities.

How international students are vulnerable

There is a perception that the majority of Chinese international students come from wealthy households. But a study of 652 Chinese students revealed significant differences in both demographics and backgrounds, as well as sources of funding for their studies.

While the majority (67%) had their studies funded by parents, 17% funded them through personal savings. The majority of self-financed students experienced added emotional and psychological challenges during their studies overseas.

Chinese students make up the majority (around 40%) of international students in Australia, but tens of thousands also come from other Asian countries including India, Nepal, Vietnam and Pakistan.

About half of international students, who are private renters, rely on work to pay rent. Like many, they too have lost their jobs in the COVID-19 pandemic – but they are not eligible for JobKeeper wage subsidies.

On March 30, Scott Morrison announced the National Cabinet had agreed to put in place a six-month moratorium on evictions.

This helps but is only one part of the rental issue for international students. Many international students enrolled in Australia for study, are unable to return to their homeland. Nor are they allowed to break their leases early without penalty.

The spread of this coronavirus has unfortunately also accelerated racist sentiments against Asian Australians and international students from Asia. In February, a student who had returned from visiting family in Malaysia found she had been evicted from her rental, as her landlord assumed she had travelled to China for Chinese New Year.




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The protracted uncertainty of not knowing if students can pursue or complete their studies or continue to pay their rent can significantly affect their mental health.

A recent report found due to culture, language and academic barriers international students are at a higher risk of mental ill-health than domestic students.

In 2019, the Victorian Coroners Prevention Unit found 27 international students died by suicide between 2009 and 2015 in the state. But the coroner said this was likely to be an underestimation.

After the Victorian Coroner’s finding, the state government appointed Orygen Youth Health to undertake research to formulate a model of care that looks at mental health support and services for international students.

What can Australia do?

Australia can lead the way by developing a model of care that is responsive to the needs of affected COVID-19 international students. It should be informed by policies and programs that prevent international students feeling a worsening sense of entrapment, or being boxed-in by their circumstances.

The Australian government must work closely with both international students and universities to formulate practical support designed to mitigate the drivers of mental distress. Support and assistance can be informed by our national mental health policy settings, and aim to ensure the widest possible range of proven interventions that promote well-being, and reduce mental distress and vulnerability




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‘I’m an international student in Australia. How do I tell my parents the pressure they put on me is too much?’


Financial support to ease pressure must be paralleled with culturally competent and easily accessible mental-health support. How Australia, as a society, responds and supports international students during the pandemic and its aftermath will be a defining moment for Australian international education.

In view of strengthening Australia as a trusted and reputable international education destination for current and future international students, COVID-19 provides us an opportunity to live out our depth of empathy, as an egalitarian and cosmopolitan society.The Conversation

Hannah Soong, Senior Lecturer and Socio-cultural researcher, UniSA Education Futures, University of South Australia

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