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COVID-19: International Students

30 March 2020

Government recalls, expiring student visas, travel bans and border closures. These are some of the issues international students are facing. Answers for so many things are still up in the air. 

But here’s the thing – international students do not have the time to sit and wait for answers. It is either we stay in Australia, or we take the next flight out. Either we remain in this module, or we withdraw and enrol in another. 

So we’re sorry, Becky, that the virus is affecting your Easter break trip to Mykonos or your annual mates’ weekend trip to the Swiss Alps, Chad. 

Imagine the countless tutorials in which we’ve had to endure our classmates dismissing this virus and partial shut-down as “annoying” and “easily manageable”. One lovely gal even went as far as to say, “it’s not even about anyone’s health, we can deal with that. It’s how it’s getting in the way of everything.” Please cue the melancholy tone of the world’s tiniest violin. 

The campus should close for the safety of all students and staff. But, we ask that the university make the necessary accommodations that would be equitable for ALL students moving forward. Suggestions that international students should “defer” or “withdraw” seem like attempts to stall for a feasible solution. Everything’s defer, defer, defer. The university’s approach is, “we’ll deal with it when we get to it”, although international students don’t have the luxury of time.

We also want to emphasise the burden that has become the responsibility of our teaching staff and subject coordinators. We are aware that the only reason they are offering us this advice is due to their genuine and understandable lack of preparation. Staff have had to deal with us case by case, making specialised accommodations where necessary. But that’s just the thing. They had to be aware of our differing circumstances to adjust courses accordingly, with no guarantee of module safety. They often seem just as lost as us. 

For many of us, deferring and withdrawing is not an option. Student visas limit us from altering our study plans to fit our needs. This is in spite of the latest action taken by the Department of Home Affairs, through which international students are given a leeway to defer and extend their studies. But doing this also means that international students would have to renew their student visas to continue their studies. 

To put the situation into perspective: a new visa application costs at least $500. This is not the time to fish out more money from international students. As is, we have already forked out hundreds of dollars to find alternative accommodations and tickets back home. This isn’t “one of those things” you gotta pay as an international student. 

Moving classes online is certainly best practice for the community; we’re merely asking you to acknowledge that this is at the expense of international students who make up 42% of the community. Our fees are disgustingly expensive and the amount does not justify everything to be online where we are unable to access campus-based resources.

Listen, not to draw vague comparisons here, but from the perspective of a domestic student paying around $800 for a course, we’d be a little outraged and confused by to the 1.5-hour tutorial that has been reduced to half an hour to accommodate the online sphere. As international students paying over $4,000 a course under the same circumstances? We’re going to have a little more to say. 

Here’s our grievance over all of this: the university was aware/should have been aware that a campus-closure was bound to happen. Yet, they made every international student pay their semesters’ fees in full at the start of the semester. When we started facing adversaries with our enrolments, the university went “whoops, well you can withdraw or defer till next semester”. No. Do better. We are not your money bags, even if you treat us as such.

Also, to the university leadership, please pay your staff the wages they deserve. They are working hard to get everything in order and meet the needs of students despite the circumstances. Long story short, the university was not prepared. Risk management, what? Crisis management, who?

This is stressful for everyone and a little compassion and understanding goes a long way. Please take care of yourselves. Consider yourselves as part of a community rather than separate individuals. Recognise your privilege over disproportionately affected groups. Use Netflix on the standard definition to prevent the impending global internet crash. These are strange times we live in. History is in the making right now, don’t be sitting in the wrong camp. Help others where you can. 

To other international students, we’re all in this together. We will get through this and help will come. Here are some useful pages to look at for now: 

  • Department of Home Affairs’ statement on student visas
  • National Union of Students’ lobby for fees reduction for international students
  • The University of Melbourne Student Union’s (UMSU) statement for international students regarding the possibility of underloading
  • Discord server where the UMSU International Department, as well as UMSU Queer and Disabilities, are running channels to assist students

The authors submitted this article as an opinion piece to Farrago.

One response to “COVID-19: International Students”

  1. Burraq says:

    The insensitivity and greed of the university administration are only dwarfed by the absolute ridiculous quality that underlines their online lectures. We need reduction in our fees and we need it now!

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