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Australian universities step up to help international students affected by coronavirus pandemic

Australian universities step up to help international students affected by coronavirus pandemic
By Natasha Chaku

Melbourne, Apr 16 () In a bid to support international students, including from India, who are facing financial crisis during the coronavirus pandemic, several Australian universities have rolled out hardship packages and expanded grants for eligible applicants.

Thousands of international students who rely mostly on part time jobs to manage their daily expenses or even sometimes pay their university fees, raised concerns after the Australian government announced that they were not included in any social security payments or the JobKeeper wage subsidy.

Moreover, the current travel bans and cancelled flights due to the coronavirus crisis have left them with no option but to stay back in the country.

Melbourne-based Deakin university has announced a package of 25 million Australian dollars for international students experiencing hardship during the ongoing health crisis.

Deakin's Vice-Chancellor Iain Martin said the support for impacted foreign students is available for the next six months.

"Many international students, through no fault of their own, are struggling with the costs of living and studying, yet are not eligible for the same government COVID-19 assistance available to our domestic students.

"Some of those students face a very desperate situation where their part-time and casual work is gone or drying up, and they can't return home yet can't afford to stay. This is an untenable position." he said.

Martin said the university so far has approved over 1,200 requests for immediate financial and hardship support, with hundreds more applications currently being assessed.

Similarly, the RMIT University, also based in Melbourne, has announced expanding its Student Hardship Assistance and Equity Scholarship funds of up to 10 million Australian dollars to support its students, both domestic and international, impacted by COVID-19.

"Students impacted by the pandemic could apply for an Emergency Financial Grant if facing job loss, housing insecurity or other financial matters and an IT Grant of 1,000 Australian dollars per student was also available for essential IT equipment to continue studying remotely," the RMIT university said.

The Monash University in Melbourne has also announced a student compassionate and hardship package of up to 15 million Australian dollars.

According to the varsity, an eligible student can apply for up to 7,500 Australian dollars grant.

Similar relief measures were announced by other universities, including the University of Melbourne, the Victoria University, the Macquarie univesity in New South Wales and the University of NSW.

The Australian National University and South Australia's Flinders University have also announced packages of nearly 21 million Australian dollars and 12.5 million Australian dollars, respectively.

Flinders University Vice-Chancellor Colin Stirling said their package offers a range of support for students, including cash payments, a new scholarship and waiver of fees.

"We estimate that 4,000 of our domestic students will feel the greatest hardship from the pandemic," he said, adding that nearly half of the 3,500 international onshore students will need additional financial support at this time.

''There are no other financial supports available to these students and they cannot return to their home countries due to the travel restrictions currently in place," Stirling said.

There are around 570,000 international students in Australia currently and according to Universities Australia (UA), the peak lobby group for Australia's 39 universities, second semester international student enrolments would see significant decline due to the current pandemic.

India is the second largest source of enrolments in Australia after China with over 140,000 enrolments recorded last year. International students are allowed to work 20 hours a week under their student visa arrangement.

UA Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said the higher education sector need more support from the federal government as ever.

"Universities have established hardship funds to support the domestic and international students who had been affected. These funds have received thousands of applications from students who, through no fault of their own, have lost jobs due to the pandemic. We are asking the government to join with us in supporting these students," she said.

Jackson said the sector could see a "revenue decline between 3 billion Australian dollars and 4.6 billion Australian dollars" and over 21,000 jobs were at risk in the next six months, and more after that.

"Recovering from this pandemic will require our best and brightest minds and every ounce of ingenuity," she said.

International students in Australia have not been included in any social security payment schemes announced by the government in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. Only those students, who are living in the country for more than a year, will be allowed to access their superannuation funds to support themselves.

Earlier this month, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had said that overseas students were not eligible for any financial support as under their visa arrangements, it was a requirement for them to support themselves for a year in Australia. NC SCYSCY

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