Impacts of Covid-19 on Students From Myanmar Studying In Australia – University of Melbourne
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions have had significant impacts on international students studying at universities in Victoria, 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, recommendations provided by students themselves, and additional consultations with students from Myanmar, we have made a number of recommendations for practical steps by UoM (further detail on these recommendations is provided in Section 4 below):
- Financial support: that UoM (DVC (International)) maintains the existing funding available and reviews 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.
- Information: that UoM (DVC (International)) improves the information on available support and funding for international students by:
- Making it more accessible in terms of language, with clear instructions that are easy to follow;
- Not requiring multiple or large-file document uploads or extraneous documentation;
- Having clear timelines and updates for students regarding support available and the status of their applications.
- Online learning, mentoring for studies: that UoM (MRN) facilitates direct one-on-one mentoring opportunities between staff and student members of the MRN with a focus on study support for online learning, and continues to provide networking opportunities.
- Additional support
- Career and employment advice: that UoM (DVC (International)) provides targeted career and employment advice and support to international student;
- Visa support: that the UoM (DVC (International)), along with the Myanmar Embassy, provide direct outreach and assistance to international students regarding the extension of student visas;
- Mental health support: that UoM / Counselling and Psychological Services reach out directly to international students, to provide clear information on specific, cost-free and confidential options available, as many students are still not aware of mental health services available.
These recommendations, which are elaborated in Section 4, are in direct response to the issues that students from Myanmar currently studying at UoM are facing:
- Two thirds of students surveyed described negative impacts on their ability to support themselves financially (and dependents, if relevant) 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 in Victoria, including the COVID-19 financial support provided by UoM. 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.
- Students’ abilities to study are also impacted significantly, with the transition to online teaching and learning posing major challenges for many students. Students also described significant mental health impacts and concerns.
- Students surveyed reported low levels of satisfaction with the support received from UoM. 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 advocating 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 recommendations would benefit all international students at UoM.
 https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-17/international-students-would-tell-others-not-to-come-australia/12558882fbclid=IwAR1bmEu2IdBslRHOgaOrz1to MKc0HCYZ0BNQmGQDPuhNBjwrIWoY4myKkH4 – accessed 28 August 2020.