Statement from TAFE Directors Australia

TAFE Directors Australia calls for support of international students in Australia during the coronavirus crisis

1 April 2020

The future of Australia’s third largest export earning industry is at serious risk if Australian governments continue to ignore the plight of international students stranded in Australia. Many are now without financial means to support themselves as they too have lost their part-time jobs from business close-down.

The success of the international education industry in Australia is recognised world-wide. Students travel to Australia to access leading education and training. Their contribution bolsters diversity in our education institutions and contribute to our dynamic society. These students and temporary visa holders have assisted our businesses. International students have been given rights to work in Aged-Care and supermarkets but Australians are also pursuing these jobs. There is no solution for the thousands of international students still in Australia.

Population growth through migration and temporary visas such as international students has been the main source of Australia’s economic growth over recent years. Their spending has kept the economy turning over and buttressed our falling per capita GDP. Forty years of investment, leveraged off student contributions, could evaporate if overseas households see that we have failed to support their family members in this most tumultuous of times.

Many international students are part of the estimated 1.1 m temporary migrant workers who do not qualify for support under the Government’s Job Seeker safety net or the Job Keeper wage subsidy. Even though the Government is providing support in the Australian way by scaling existing systems, temporary workers have fallen through the cracks. Yet they are likely to have contributed to our tax and superannuation systems.

Students have come to Australia to learn and acquire skills to set them up for life. Through no fault of their own, access to continue their learning is not certain as many providers have been forced to delay programs or to work on-line. In vocational education and training (VET) in particular, the transition to on-line is less certain as the rules of its qualifications limit this form of delivery or assessment.

Onshore international students are now unlikely to be able to return home. Without family or an established network to support them many are particularly vulnerable. We endorse the principle of keeping people lawful onshore and this extends to international students. Without government support to meet their costs of living, many will be forced into the informal economy and will be at heightened risk of exploitation which will further stain our reputation as a quality destination. They will also need access to health services as they seek to protect themselves and the community from the virus.

The Government needs to explore options to furnish support to these students. The tax system is an avenue as student work history and bone fides are known. The Government could remit financial support through registered international providers, or power up the not-for-profit and charities sector to step in with hardship support.

Without intervention, Australia’s world-class Tuition Protection Service, which has supported students in case of provider closure, will be at risk. Without support, students will move to what they see as reliable providers or abandon their study and return home, putting more providers at financial risk.

It is right for Australia to support its residents first but now is the time to think about all in our care, on basic humanitarian grounds. Education and training institutes are doing as much as their limited resources will allow, but it will not be enough.

Now is the time for governments which have ridden on the wave of economic growth brought by international students to help them out in their time of need.

A call to action

TAFE Directors Australia therefore asks the Government to put the measures below in place.

  1. Provide for at least the next six months individual financial support to international students in Australia on furnishing proof of hardship. International students with an existing tax record should be eligible for a means tested rescue package to assist with cost of living support, or job seeker support could be extended to these students.
  2. Establish channels through approved international providers or the charity sector to distribute relief to students in need of support on clear eligibility grounds, for at least the next six-months.
  3. Guarantee international students access to health services where their private cover is not adequate.
  4. Employers now supported through the Government’s generous Job Keeper scheme are encouraged to re-employ international students now they have some wages headroom.
  5. The Government re-affirm its underwriting of the Tuition Protection Scheme to assure students that their pre-paid fees are secured and they can transfer providers if circumstances require it.
  6. Commission adjustments to VET qualifications to remove work placements and workplace assessments where equivalent training outcomes can be achieved through virtual interaction and/or well-structured programs at a TAFE. This will ensure international students will be able to progress through their learning within the timeframe in which they were enrolled.
  7. Ensure timely and clear announcements on policies for visas renewals for students in Australia, fee waivers for renewals required due to COVID-19 actions and access to post-study work visas for students unable to meet the current conditions due to the coronavirus crisis.
  8. Put out clear messaging from Australian authorities that no exploitative, discriminatory or violent behaviours towards international students will be tolerated.

 

More measures may be needed as the situation evolves. Clarity of education and migration status of current and enrolling students and communication about the support available to students in Australia will help reduce heightened anxiety among students.

The high standing of Australian international education relies on the measures that will be put in place. Australia does not hold intrinsic rights on education services like it does with its minerals and resources. The service economy relies on loyalty and return business. Our reputation in the competitive world of international education stands or falls on the way we respond in these circumstances. The capacity of the sector to bounce back will depend on the response provided in these challenging times.

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