Webinar #6: The international student voice of COVID-19 in Australia

Thus far, our webinar series has largely focused on industry: how the international education sector will be impacted as a result of COVID-19, how universities and study bodies are responding, and what various organisations are doing to support international students throughout the pandemic. So, we thought it was time to turn the focus to students themselves.

In our sixth webinar, Insider Guides’ James Martin spoke to Ahmed Ademoglu, Nursing student at Curtin University, StudyPerth board member, and the National President of the Council of International Students of Australia (CISA). 

CISA represents over 600,000 international students around Australia. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been actively advocating for student support, ensuring that their voices are heard and acting as the intermediary between students and government.

To kick off the discussion, James asked Ahmed about students’ immediate needs. Ahmed listed the following:

  • Accommodation
  • Financial help
  • Emotional support
  • Online learning and value for education
  • People who are stuck outside the country when their families are in Australia

James then posed the question: should it be up to CISA to advocate for these basic needs? Is there a government failure?

Ahmed stated that CISA provides unity to the many student voices around Australia.

“I think students are advocating every day, even without an organisation,” he said. “It was naturally happening anyway, but I think organisations leading this gives power. It gives students rights while also caring about student welfare. I like to call it ‘credible advocacy’ – you’re hearing those students from the ground and you’re carrying it, you’re advocating it.”

Ahmed clarified that state and territory governments are already doing the work – CISA’s involvement is complementary to the many relief initiatives being launched across the country.

That point led to a discussion on Australia’s response compared to other countries around the world – are we doing enough for international students?

“We’ve heard really sad stories,” said Ahmed. “But at the same time, I try to look at the positive side of things. We’ve really seen the strength of the sector in Australia. When you look at the whole sector, I don’t think there’s any other country doing the same things to … welcome international students.”

In saying that, both James and Ahmed agreed that there were international students slipping through the cracks. The rent moratorium is one such example where international students may be at a disadvantage, such as in a situation where they’re not on the lease. Ahmed also highlighted technicalities that prevented students from applying for multiple grants at once, sometimes leading to no financial relief at all.

Then, there was a discussion on online learning and whether the value it offers will negatively impact students wanting to come to Australia. Ahmed believes the sector needs to approach their marketing tactics differently.

“We need to look at how we market online learning and meet students’ expectations – they think they can get the same thing cheaper elsewhere,” said Ahmed. “We need to be careful about our empathy – we either increase the quality of something if we want to sell it at the same price, or if you can’t bring the same service you should be … thinking about your tuition fees. At the end of the day, students are aware of what’s happening.”

And on a broader scale, Ahmed added that more needed to be done to change some people’s views of international students, and to eradicate the idea that they’re simply tourists.

“We really need to educate our national leaders about the value of international education and we need to break stigmas among the community,” he said. “We have people thinking that international students are a burden on the community, but we know that international students create 100,000 jobs across the country.

“I’m concerned about the narrative around international students – we need to tell the story in a different way.”

During the webinar we polled attendees on the following questions:

  • What do you feel is the overwhelming kind of message about Australia that current international students are spreading around the world at this time?
  • Do you think international students understand the level of support and how to access it in Australia?
  • How do you feel the sector acted to outline support measures for international students?
  • Do you feel that other countries are doing a better job of supporting international students during COVID-19?