Webinar #2: How are universities and study bodies responding to COVID-19?

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The second of Insider Guides’ webinars assembled Tom Gifford, Assistant Director of International Recruitment at RMIT University, and Peter Mackey, Director of International Trade at Study NSW, to discuss and evaluate how universities and study bodies are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Host, James Martin, commenced the meeting by restating the webinar’s focus on ‘practical optimism’ within the international education education sector as the world navigates COVID-19.

“Students are really struggling, and the sector is adapting quickly to changing circumstances to support both onshore and offshore students… there is uncertainty about the future, but examples of practical optimism I’m seeing around and we need to celebrate and share these stories,” James starts.

A significant caveat of the discussion emphasised that this pandemic has thrown the sector into uncharted waters, and that responses are constantly evolving and adapting to change.

“2020 has been a challenging year so far… it just shows, in the industry that we’re in, how quickly things can change,” Tom explains. “… the change has moved from, ‘How do we get students through a short-term travel restriction?’, to now… from a pure recruitment perspective, reassuring our students and agents that we’re here, we’re available.”

Fortunately, there are some silver-linings to this sector evolution, which Tom explores from a university’s perspective.

“It’s amazing to see how a big institution can come together and you actually really start to see all of the work that’s done behind the scenes – around timetabling, around property services, around student support,” Tom shares. “When you’re talking about optimism and positive stories, it does give institutions an opportunity to really learn about how much work takes place to give our students a positive experience.”

Throughout the webinar, specific sector responses and initiatives are analysed and assessed, offering inspiration for other institutions and organisations seeking to navigate COVID-19. Peter shares how even government responses are under constant development.

“I think our approach in the first instance was simply about trying to get information out,” Peter explains, “in more recent times it has been about advocacy… what we’re now in the phase of doing is trying to interpret some of the policy decisions that are coming from the federal government, the state government – making sure students know what applies to them, what don’t, what are the gaps, what can we do collectively.”

A summary from Peter early in the seminar proves a significant and lasting message for the sector to consider:

“It’s the reputation of the country on the line here. We need to respond. International students have been a part of our success. We now need to be with them in their hour of need and how we act now will determine how we’re judged in the future. It’s a really critical time.”

Topics covered:

  • What COVID-19 means for institutions 
  • Response from a government perspective
  • The commercial reality of student retention
    • Response measures and short-term initiatives
    • How are Study NSW addressing the needs of current students?
    • Results of student survey: what are international students most concerned about?
  • Moving online from a university and recruitment perspective
  • How sectors are working together
  • Initiatives that give a sense of hope and encapsulate ‘practical optimism’
  • How the accommodation sector is coping and any red flags
  • Is semester two a complete write-off?
  • How can state-based bodies lend to the message that online learning is not an inferior product?
  • Is online learning a short-term change, or a fundamental shift?
  • Attendees Q&A
  • Insider Guides’ COVID-19 Resource Hub and webinar resources