Australia’s often called The Lucky Country, and by all accounts they’ve remained so despite Covid-19. Australia’s seen 7,224 Covid-19 cases, only 429 of which are currently active with just 102 deaths (to date), and has flattened its curve with only a handful of daily cases nationwide.
Similar to other big countries like Canada or the US, some parts of Australia are far more (or less) affected than others. For instance, nearly half of Australia’s cases are in its most populous state, New South Wales, while the vast Northern Territory (pop. 245,000), has only 1 active Covid-19 case as of today.
When is Australia re-opening?
Australia just announced that the entire country (including all 8 states and territories) is on track to largely re-open from July, coinciding with second terms at universities. This includes lifting the current ban on indoor gatherings of over 100 people, as well as resuming major events (eg. sports, concerts, etc.) at a 25% crowd capacity.
When can international students return?
Under the same plan, the government has also announced it’s launching a pilot programme next month to re-open Australia’s borders to incoming international students “in a very controlled setting”, for students with pre-approved plans for attending specific universities.
Will Australian universities be in-person or online later this year?
That depends very much on the school, with different schools taking different approaches. For instance, schools like University of New South Wales (UNSW) and University of Technology Sydney (UTS) will be delivering most classes online for the remainder of the academic year. And others like Flinders University are contacting international students directly to make specific arrangements for their courses to continue online.
While schools like Australian National University (ANU) and University of Newcastle (UoN) are restarting face-to-face classes for the second semester in July, others like Macquarie University are returning to face-to-face even sooner on 22 June 2020. Nationwide, where schools are returning to partial or full face-to-face classes, they are doing so under greatly increased hygiene protocols, and with deliberately smaller class sizes.
In general, Australian schools were able to make the transition to online teaching very quickly, having invested substantial resources into online programme delivery in recent years, allowing Australian schools as a group to shift online quicker and more seamlessly than in many other countries. A good example of which is Australia’s Future Learn programme, which offers extensive, free online courses.
How is Australia supporting international students?
Australia has a number of administrative, financial, and support services in place, to help both prospective and current international students who may be struggling financially due to no fault of their own, during Covid-19.
National, State, and School Support
International students in Australia can access multiple layers of support at the national, state, and university level. The Federal Government is providing more than $200 million in support at the national level, and Australia’s 43 universities are providing more than $145 million in support for students impacted by Covid-19.
There are several excellent, consolidated resources available online, including for international student support at the national level; at the state level, each state is offering its own programmes. For example South Australia offers matching Covid-related aid grants to international students attending its 3 public universities through its ISSP programme.
The Study in Australia site has a full, consolidated list of school-by-school resources and links.
Counselling Services & Peer Support
Every Australian university has “pastoral services” on campus providing counselling, advice, etc., while most also have their own 24-7 helplines for students. Many schools offer specialised mental health services for students, like La Trobe’s Wellbeing Check-In Service to help keep in-need students connected via Zoom.
Information & Updates
For regular updates, you can visit australia.gov.au, or download the official Coronavirus Australia app. The government also has a dedicated email, and hotline at 1300-981-621 (available Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm AEST) to assist international students with specific questions. Other good resources to keep updated include the Department of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Health.
All prospective international students to Australia are required to get Overseas Student Health Cover, or “OSHC”, prior to applying for their student visa. Students are able to choose between various private insurance providers and, depending on their plan, are covered at various levels for medical services including doctor visits, emergency care, prescription medicine, etc.
While current international students who are in-country will generally be covered for all Covid-related treatments (see below), prospective students who may be traveling to Australia later this academic year are advised to check directly with their OSHC provider for more information on specific Covid-related coverage.
To find out more about studying overseas during Covid-19 you can contact IDP Singapore.
Help for international students currently in Australia
The Australian government is providing a wide range of support for current, in-country international students impacted by Covid-19, including:
The government has put a 6-month ban on evictions for all tennants experiencing financial difficulty through no fault of their own, due to Covid-19. You can find links to a consolidated state-by-state list of rental authorities here.
In the event of falling ill due to Covid-19, in most cases international students’ existing OSHC insurance will cover them fully for treatments including for Covid-related lung, chest, kidney, bladder, and dialysis-related treatments. You can find out more about Covid-specific OSHC coverage here.
Student Work Visas
Other targeted measures include allowing current international students who’ve already been working (while studying) in Australia for at least 12 full months and who are facing financial problems due to Covid-19 to access funds within their “AustralianSuper” (superannuation fund) to help with urgent financial needs. The government has also temporarily relaxed the ≤40 hour per week work limit for other international students employed in certain essential services (eg. healthcare, aged care homes, etc.)
Additional Scholarships & Bursaries
While most schools are already offering a range of financial support, including fee waivers, and payment deferrals, many schools have gone further by offering their own additional needs-based, Covid-related financial aid.
For example, Curtin University’s Curtin Cares gives all students a one-off cash payment from $250-$1,500, depending on their needs. Flinders University’s Matthew Flinders Scholarship has already allocated individual $2,000 grants to more than 1,300 international students to assist with their continuing studies.
While most universities are directly contacting current international students who qualify for specific grants and aid, prospective students are advised to reach out to their university’s admissions teams directly to find out what assistance they may qualify for. You can check here for a consolidated list of school-by-school links to further information.
To find out what’s happening in the lives of international students in Australia right now, you can also check out #InThisTogether. Another good resource for ongoing developments is studyinaustralia.gov.au, which includes updates, answers to FAQs, and links to other useful government and university sites.
Reading Into China’s Recent Comments
On 10 June 2020, the Chinese Mininstry of Education warned Chinese international students that “The spread of [Covid-19] has not been effectively controlled, and there are risks in international travel and open campuses,” adding “During the epidemic, there were multiple discriminatory incidents against Asians in Australia.” In response, the Australian government reiterated that it was a “successful, multicultural sociey.” Its reputation has remained largely intact despite incidents like the well-publicised assault of two Singaporean students in Melbourne on 15 April 2020.
Australia’s Education Minister argues once students arrive, they are in “one of the safest countries in the world for international students to be based in right now.”
In fact, a recent poll found 93% of Australians themselves felt their government has handled Covid-19 well. Conversely, in the same poll, only 31% of Australians felt China had handled its outbreak well, and this helps give context to the backstory behind the escalating war of words between Australia and China in recent months.