Impacts of Covid-19 on Students From Myanmar Studying In Australia – All Universities
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns have had significant impacts on international students studying at universities in Australia. Steering Committee members of the Myanmar Research Network (MRN) at the University of Melbourne (UoM) in partnership with the Unimelb Myanmar Students’ Association (UMSA) conducted a survey in July-August 2020 to understand and document these impacts.
Given the survey findings, suggestions provided by students themselves, and additional consultations with students from Myanmar, we make a number of recommendations for practical steps and improvements (further detail on these recommendations is provided in Section 4 below):
For the Federal Government:
We strongly recommend that international students who have remained in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic be made eligible for Federal Government wage subsidies like JobKeeper or JobSeeker, as well as other types of financial support, with it being in the long-term interest of the Government to preserve Australia’s reputation as a destination for international students.
For universities hosting large numbers of international students:
- Increase and broaden financial support: We recommend maintaining or extending, as applicable, the existing funding support provided by Universities to international students in need, until at least the end of the academic year and reviewing eligibility criteria, e.g. for support for loss of income, to provide options for students with no employment history in Australia and/or who face difficulties providing evidence of loss of income.
- Provide clearer information on support available: We recommend that information on available support and funding for international students:
- Be made more accessible in terms of language, with clear instructions that are easy to follow;
- Not require multiple or large-file document uploads or extraneous documentation;
- Have clear timelines and updates for students regarding support available and status of their applications.
- Online learning, mentoring for studies: We recommend that Universities with large numbers of international students consider facilitating mentoring opportunities between staff and/or willing volunteers from the study body and international student members, with a focus on study support for online learning; and provide opportunities for networking among themselves and with staff, including by providing incentives to participate.
- Additional support:
- Career and employment advice: We recommend that universities provide targeted career and employment advice and support to international students;
- Visa support: We recommend that universities work with the Myanmar Embassy to provide direct outreach and assistance to international students to extend student visas;
- Mental health support: We recommend that university counselling services reach out directly to international students, to provide clear information on specific, cost-free and confidential options available, as many students are not aware of mental health services available.
For the Myanmar Embassy in Australia:
In addition, we recommend that the Myanmar Embassy in Australia take a more active role in communicating with and supporting Myanmar students in Australia, in particular:
- Identifying and communicating directly with all international students from Myanmar and updating them on the services available, including relief flights.
- Considering its own fundraising channels to supplement the supports available and to fill gaps.
- Organising and offering networking activities to enable Myanmar nationals in Australia to connect and share resources and tips for dealing with the current challenges.
- Working with universities to provide direct outreach and assistance to international students concerning the extension of student visas.
Key findings on which the recommendations are based:
These recommendations, which are elaborated in Section 4, are in direct response to the issues faced by students from Myanmar who are currently studying in Australia:
- Over three quarters of students surveyed described the pandemic impacting negatively on their ability to support themselves (and dependents, if relevant) financially during their studies in Australia. Financial impacts were most commonly linked to lack or loss of part-time and casual employment.
- There are significant gaps in awareness about the different types of assistance and support available to international students. The most well-known are support funds provided by universities and by the Victorian Government. Approximately 40% of students surveyed applied for at least one kind of assistance or support. Those who did not apply mainly reported that this was due either to a lack of awareness or because they did not believe that they qualified. Of those who applied for assistance, around 50% were successful. Often-lengthy waiting periods and lack of updates about the status of applications for support contribute to significant stress and uncertainty. Students also face difficulties in applying for the types of support that are currently available, since they often do not know how to navigate bureaucratic systems and/or do not have the type of documentation required to apply for this support.
- The pandemic has also impacted significantly on students’ abilities to study, with the transition to online teaching and learning posing major challenges for many students. Students also described significant mental health impacts and concerns.
- Overall, students who were surveyed reported low levels of satisfaction with the support received from their universities. Over half of the respondents considered that the support available for international students in Australia was insufficient to meet their needs in the current situation.
As MRN members, we are deeply concerned by the lack of satisfaction that students from Myanmar have reported concerning support received during the COVID-19 pandemic. During consultations with Myanmar students, some described already advising their friends and contacts back home not to apply to study in Australia in the future, due to their own negative experiences; many reported feeling very disappointed by the lack of Federal Government support for international students in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If the situation does not change, there is a serious risk that future international students will be dissuaded from studying in Australia in light of the negative experiences of current students – something that has been highlighted in other investigations by Australian academics and which will have severe impacts on a higher education system that has already been negatively affected by the pandemic. We are therefore committed to advocate for Federal Government support systems to be extended to international students.
Although this survey and parallel consultations conducted by MRN focused on students from Myanmar, the experiences of these students are illustrative of challenges and issues faced by international students more generally. MRN members and students involved in consultations therefore feel strongly that the recommendations detailed in this report would benefit all international students in Australia.
 https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-17/international-students-would-tell-others-not-to-come-australia/12558882fbclid=IwAR1bmEu2IdBslRHOgaOrz1toMKc0HCYZ0BNQmGQDPuhNBjwrIWoY4myKkH4 – accessed 28 August 2020.