Support for International HDR students during COVID-19 pandemic

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With the response to the developing COVID19 pandemic, Universities through Australia are beginning to cancel events, move courses online and shut down teaching facilities. Local libraries are closed and we’re beginning to see closure of other public institutions. The Australian government has announced that only Australian citizens and permanent residents will be allowed to enter the country, possibly for as long as 6 months. All of these circumstances are extremely distressing for HDR students, most of all for International students. International students brought $37.6 billion to the Australian economy last year. However, during the current global crisis, the government and university institutions have not provided enough assistance. Below we detail three concerns that are unique to international HDR students.

Emotional Distress

International students who are already living away from home face the double burden of worrying for their families’ wellbeing back in their countries, as well as anxiety over their increasing social isolation in Australia. We appreciate that the university is working to strengthen student engagement, but unfortunately in the short term this pandemic has hit international students very hard. Many international students live in share house living situations, paying high rent where they face varying degrees of racism in these troubled times. Access to help in terms of counselling is also not easily available. With the border being closed, international students face a hard choice to either suspend study, thus go back to their countries with no fixed return date, or stay in Australia in isolation.

Academic Insecurity

Many students have had to defer their fieldwork because of the global pandemic. For international HDR students, no matter currently in Australia or not, they have restricted research facilities, increasingly limited academic jobs, and are otherwise severely inconvenienced by the broader societal effects of COVID19 related restrictions for an unforeseen timeline.

Economic Concerns

Last but very importantly, many international HDR students in Australia hold external funding or are self-funded. Financial issues are of increasing concern. The student visa has 20 hours/fortnight work restriction causing international students to seek out casual work, but in an economic crisis, casual workers are first to get cut.

In this time of uncertainty, International High Degree Research students, demand:

  1. All final submission dates to be extended by a minimum of 12 weeks, with NO extra tuition fee for self-funding and external funding during extended period.
  2. All milestone dates to be extended by a minimum of 8 weeks, with NO extra tuition fee for self-funding and external funding during extended period.
  3. An extension of internal scholarship funds for periods of leave students have had to take and for extended periods.
  4. During pandemic time, international HDR students can suspend any time no matter before or after census dates, if they need/want to leave the country for reasons affected by the virus.
  5. Universities need to provide help for international students who need to extend their visas because they choose to extend or suspend.
  6. Additional support is provided for working from home and additional leave without penalty to HDR students who are unable to work from home.
  7. Add payment hours for casual workers since moving teaching activities online requires extra hours of work. 
  8. The granting of hardship funds for international HDR students without internal scholarships who are unable to work during the pandemic (IE if they become sick or are required to self isolate). 

The presented issues as a result of the escalating COVID19 situation means that this is becoming a matter of ethics in regards to how international HDR students are supported by their University institution, and must not only be acknowledged, but acted upon with sincere consideration.