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Overseas Student Update

Faced with the prospect of yet another semester abroad, overseas international students face immense challenges and uncertainty.

Faced with the prospect of yet another semester abroad, overseas international students face immense challenges and uncertainty.

At the time of writing, the only international students allowed back into Australia are those ‘nominated by their education institution under an approved International Student Arrival Plan’. This includes ‘final year students who need to complete practical placements and higher degree research students’ but excludes a vast majority of undergraduates, especially those studying Arts. Some of these students are second-years, who spent barely one month on campus before having to return to their home countries. Some are first-years who have never seen campus and do not know when they will.

This geographical isolation means most international students are distanced from campus life and the social events that are an essential part of the university experience. While student representatives have been organizing Zoom events, it goes without saying that these are a poor substitute for face-to-face social interactions. Most of these Zoom events have not been well-attended, which is hardly surprising given the prevalence of Zoom fatigue a year into the pandemic. Living a life suspended between two continents, trying to maintain increasingly fragile friendships over Zoom and social media, and keep up with uni work despite the absence of the structure and motivation provided by on-campus learning, has been incredibly difficult for many. Added to this is the intense pressure to succeed, given how costly and rare the opportunity to study at Unimelb is.

While overseas students watch from abroad their local counterparts ease back into the rhythm of campus life, there is one thing that hasn’t changed for them. Tuition fees. Though they do not have access to libraries, in- person classes or other campus facilities, the University continues to insist that the quality of teaching has not changed in the slightest, and requires all overseas students to pay full fees, which for those of you who are unaware, is over four times what local students are charged. It’s a gross injustice that no one but the students themselves seem to care much about. With little support from student reps and no one fighting their corner, many overseas students have no choice but to bear it up and keep plodding away at a degree they began under vastly different circumstances. While student representatives have been quibbling at length (and often unpleasantly) during Students’ Council about electoral reform and constitutional changes, much less attention has been paid to the plight of overseas students.

Nevertheless, they are held to the same academic standards as local students, who have access to numerous resources and facilities they do not. While UMSU Education have campaigned for WAM (Weighted Average Mark) adjustments for overseas students (as other Australian universities including Monash have), the University has not yet implemented any changes. Overseas students can take on a reduced study load, but not automatically, as they could last year. Instead, they have to go through a time-consuming process that includes submitting documentary evidence. They must do so before the census date; no withdrawals are allowed if your circumstances change after.

Finally, while Melbourne is, at least for now, out of the woods, COVID cases are rapidly rising in various parts of Asia, Africa and South America, where most overseas students are located. Many students are stuck in countries such as India, Indonesia and Nepal where the situation has become unimaginably dire. These students have to face the trauma of rising death tolls and prolonged lockdowns on top of dealing with uni work all alone.

In sum, it’s not a wonderful time to be an overseas student. The University’s treatment of us has been, at best, appallingly negligent. And yet they continue to market themselves to future students who will have to pay full fees despite studying from home. They continue to act as though nothing has changed, that nothing is wrong.

 
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