Monday, August 31, 2020

4 out of 5 international students are still in Australia – how we treat them will have consequences

by Angela Lehmann and Aasha Sriram, The Conversation:

COVID-19 has not stopped international education. As of August 24, 524,000 international students were living among us in Australian cities and communities. They represent 78% of all student visa holders, according to data the Department of Home Affairs provided to us.

These students are potential ambassadors for Australia and our institutions. They could help shape our country’s reputation as a safe and welcoming destination in the post-pandemic world – but only if we look after them.

Pie chart and table showing numbers of international students in Australia and offshore
Data as of August 24 2020 provided by Department of Home AffairsAuthor provided

The numbers of students now in Australia vary across sectors. Currently, 73% of our international higher education students and 78% of postgraduate research students are here. The vast majority — 78% — of our international secondary school students are still here too.

The percentage is even higher for vocational education and training (VET): 91% of the sector’s international students are here, 159,233 in all.

Non-award programs (shorter courses that don’t lead to a degree or diploma) and English language programs (ELICOS) have the largest percentages of students now offshore.

Table showing numbers and percentages of student visa holders still in Australia
Data provided by Department of Home Affairs at authors' requestAuthor provided

The experiences these large numbers of students are having now will have a direct impact on their decisions and patterns of mobility once borders reopen.

However, institutions and government agencies continue to focus on outward-looking approaches to recovery, such as offshore recruitment and delivery, negotiating pilot safety corridors, and scenario planning for the reopening of borders. The onshore response to international education risks being severely neglected.

Students are comparing countries’ responses

International students in Australian cities and communities are of course talking about their situation. They are using social media, creating blogs and interacting constantly with families and friends back home and around the world.

During the pandemic, this peer-to-peer form of marketing is heightened in its global reach. Our students are constantly comparing their lives with students in both their home countries and Australia’s major competitor destinations.

As a result, the crisis of international student social support is the subject of global comparisons. Students and their families are weighing up what they are going through “here” compared to what others are going through “there”.

A life transformed in Melbourne

Arya is a full-time postgraduate student from India who is staying in Melbourne. We spoke with Arya as a part of a series of interviews with international students during COVID-19.

Her dream of studying in Australia was made possible through a combination of a student loan, borrowing from family, and savings after working for two years as a journalist. Prior to COVID-19, she relied on part-time jobs to support herself. This income was essential to her financial survival in Melbourne.

The first lockdown meant she lost both her jobs — one in hospitality and one at her university. As these sectors are struggling in this crisis, her prospect of finding a new job is bleak.

Arya is not eligible for federal government support such as  JobSeeker. But she might be able to get Victorian government support, including a voucher to buy groceries and a one-off payment of A$1,100. She can also apply for a modest grant from her university to cover some bills.

She has struggled to pay rent, but the moratorium on evictions has prevented her from becoming homeless. Her university and local community groups in Melbourne have also provided food hampers.

Arya’s goal was to study in Australia at a world-class institution and solidify her status within the upwardly mobile middle classes in India. Her life has been transformed into a struggle to eat, pay rent and avoid homelessness while keeping her grades up. Arya observes:

It is becoming more than an education. The question is shifting to how students live and survive in a global city midst a pandemic.

It’s even harder in the US

Arya is in contact with friends and fellow Indian students studying overseas. While her situation in Melbourne is dire, her friends in the US are struggling every day. Arya introduced us to Dhanya.

Dhanya, who moved to New York in 2017 to study, says she is struggling “despite doing everything right”. After recently graduating and finding a job, Dhanya lost her H1B sponsored visa for skilled workers as a result of the Trump administration’s recent freeze on visas. “The US government has not considered that we can’t get home,” Dhanya says.

She reports that she and many of her friends in similar situations have been told they can choose to work as unpaid interns.

US President Donald Trump sitting at desk in White House
President Donald Trump has frozen visas permitting foreign students to work in the United States. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/AAP

Many American states enacted a patchwork of temporary eviction moratoriums and the federal government issued a partial ban on evictions. These moratoriums have now largely expired, forcing students to rely on the discretion of landlords. As a non-citizen, Dhanya cannot receive unemployment benefits or a stimulus cheque.

Dhanya is unaware of any non-monetary support from her university or the government for international students. There are no free meal plans, grocery vouchers, or community-based food schemes.

Despite our Melbourne-based student living with the daily anxiety about her finances, she is comparing her experience relatively positively to her friends in the US.

Some countries are enhancing reputations

Students are paying attention to countries that are including international students and temporary migrants in their social policy response to COVID-19. Arya says:

The way countries handle this now is definitely going to impact how students see your country as a destination in the future.

Arya and her friends are keeping a keen eye on European destinations such as Germany and Sweden. They have also been impressed by Canada’s timely support for international students during this crisis.

It is not enough for Australia to rely on other nations doing badly on social welfare and support. We need to do more than aim to receive a comparatively “good” score on poverty, exploitation and vulnerability based on others doing worse.

Australia urgently needs to actively reshape international education market perceptions by demonstrating that we offer not only world-class education, but also world-class student support. And that starts with helping the cohort of more than half-a-million international students who currently call Australia home.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The PhD: Personalising your revision practice

by Rachael Cayley, Explorations of Style:


One of my favourite bits of revision advice is that writers should learn about their own writing habits. To revise your writing effectively, you should know what words or phrases you overuse or what rules you tend to misunderstand. Bringing to bear your accumulated understanding of your own writing habits will definitely improve your revision process. While working on my book manuscript this summer, I encountered a situation that deepened my appreciation for efficacy of this type of self-knowledge.

As I was struggling through the middle section of the book, I realized that the structure really wasn't working. I had tried out many different things and had ended up equally unhappy with all my attempts. With the help of many reverse outlines (and the incisive advice of a good friend), I realized that I was indecisively flip-flopping between two different structural arrangements:

  1. Having three separate chapters of writing principles, followed by a single chapter of revision strategies
  2. Dividing up the revision strategies and interspersing them throughout the three chapters of writing principles

This type of structural choice probably seems pretty familiar; most of us have had the experience of confronting such a choice in our academic writing. To take a simple example, let's say you've got eighteen participants, each of whom was asked six interview questions. Should you give each participant's answers to all six questions before going on to the next participant? Or should you give all eighteen participants' answers to question one before going on to give all the answers to question two, and so on. The best answer to such structural questions will always be determined by context. Do you want to reflect on the implications of the totality of each participant's responses? Or do you want to draw connections between the varied responses of different participants to each question? Given whatever it is that you're trying to accomplish with your writing, one of these options is surely preferable for your eventual reader. The problem can be, however, that you might genuinely not know what your reader needs in this instance. I was definitely trying to meet the needs of my future reader, but that commitment alone didn't solve my problem: I was still able to make a sound case for either approach.

I eventually came to a resolution by reflecting more deeply on my own tendencies as an academic writer. I often—without even knowing that I'm doing so—shy away from being concrete. My readers have long told me that my academic writing would benefit from more detail, more elaborations, more examples. Recognizing that I generally err on the side of offering concepts without concrete application, I decided that the right solution was probably the one where I pushed myself to be more concrete. Rather than asking my reader to work through three chapters of writing principles before giving them a strategies chapter, I would make each chapter a blend of principles and strategies. Carving up a chapter and integrating its parts into three other existing chapters wasn't easy, but I'm provisionally happy with the results. 

What makes my experience potentially relevant for others is the general notion that self-knowledge can help with decision making in academic writing. When you are confronting a structural dilemma, try thinking about the needs of the reader. If that intervention doesn't magically clear everything up, try reflecting on the ways in which you may typically struggle to meet the needs of the reader. This strategy is helpful because it forces you to think about how your inclinations may not reliably serve the needs of your reader. Different writers will obviously have different writerly inclinations. I revel in creating systematic principles without sufficient attention to concrete applications; others may excel at detailed explication but may be stingy when to it comes to the higher order unification of their ideas. General revision principles—like understanding the needs of your reader—are great, but your revision practices also need to be grounded in a deepening grasp of your persistent habits. Overcoming the gap between how we tend to express ourselves and how the reader wants the material to be expressed is the goal of all revision. We can each give that process a boost by personalizing our revision practices with a growing awareness of what we do well when we write and where we consistently fall short. 


This post is the fifth in a series of book reflections posts. As I go through the writing process, I'm pausing to talk about my progress and my thoughts on the writing process itself. The progress reports are really just for me: I’m using the public nature of the blog to keep me accountable. The actual point of these posts will be to reflect on what I’m learning about writing and how these insights connect to the topics covered here on the blog.

Status Update: In the spirit of public transparency about my book writing process, I’m going to conclude each of these book reflections posts with a status update. Needless to say, the complexity of life over the past five months has made writing extra challenging. I have now finished my provisional revision of Parts One and Two, which puts me on schedule, at least according to the revised schedule I created in June. That means that I'll try to write Chapter Seven in August (somewhat realistic) and Chapter Eight in September–October (less realistic) and Chapter Nine in November (who knows what will be going on by then!). But by the end of year, I should have a full draft ready for extensive revision.

Monday, August 17, 2020

News: Visa Changes for Anyone Working in Critical Industries

Image: Insider Guides

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government has introduced a new visa – 
the Temporary
Activity (subclass 408) visa – that is available to international students in Australia. 

This is a temporary visa that allows you to stay in Australia if you are employed in a ‘critical industry sector’, including health care and food processing. There is no visa application charge for Subclass 408 (although you may need to pay other costs for requirements such as health checks and police certificates) and the visa allows approved applicants to stay in Australia for up to 12 months. 

What can I do on the Subclass 408 visa?

With the Temporary Activity visa, you can:

  • Remain in Australia, if you have no other visa options (for example, if your studies have finished during this time) and are unable to depart Australia due to COVID-19 travel restrictions
  • Remain in Australia to continue your work in critical sectors. These include agriculture, food processing, health care, aged care, disability care and child care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Medical professionals making employment arrangements in the health care sector are also able to apply for this visa.

This visa is not open to visitors to Australia who are unable to support themselves during this time – these people must make arrangements to return home.

Who can apply?

There are certain requirements and conditions that must be met for people applying for the Subclass 408 visa. These include:

  • Having a current visa that expires in 28 days or less or your last substantive temporary visa expired less than 28 days ago,
  • Either having evidence from your employer that you have ongoing work in a critical sector and that an Australian Citizen or Permanent Resident cannot fill the position, or demonstrating you can’t meet the requirements of any other visa,
  • Maintaining adequate health insurance during your stay in Australia.

You can find the full list of requirements here.

Applicants can also include family members in the application.

Please note, this visa is only available to people currently in Australia.

For more information and to apply for this visa, visit the Department of Home Affairs website.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

The PhD: “Your English is so good”

by Maria Cohut, Researchex, PhD Life:

For many International PhD students the experience of living in another country is a positive one and one which they look forward to with excitement. However, some aspects of this experience may not be exactly how they expected, especially when they leave the ‘bubble’ of campus. In recent years, we have heard more and more in the media about ‘micro-incivilities’ and ‘microaggressions’. 

In this post Maria, a former Warwick English Literature PhD student, reflects on some of her experiences and how she felt. What have your experiences been? Have you experienced similar questioning? How did you feel about it? What motives did you ascribe to it? Was your experience in the UK? Or did it happen when studying in another country? Have your experiences been different in different territories? Have such conversations changed over time? How do you manage such conversations? We would be interested to hear your views.    

I am a migrant. I moved to the country I now call my second home when I was a young adult. When I moved away from my home country, that was my first time stepping outside my home country’s borders. That was my first time on a plane. My first time living away from home ever, for any length of time. My first time cooking a meal for myself, doing my own laundry. My first time having to do “grown up stuff” on my own: opening a bank account, (eventually) finding a flat share, sorting out my tuition. A lot of firsts.

I made this choice because I had a Romantic view of life: I wanted to study abroad, learn about other cultures, practice my language skills, challenge the ideas I had imbibed growing up, learn what other things were possible in life. In short, I simply wanted to broaden my horizons, and I wanted it with a passion, almost at any cost. It wasn’t easy, but I thankfully did have a support network backing me up. I grew a lot. I ended up staying in my adopted country not for lack of other or better options, but because my life here had grown organically within and around me: I made dear friends, I found trustworthy mentors, I met partners, I picked up habits, I fell in love with places, people, and aspects of the culture.

But ever since I moved, I have had interactions with local people that have left me uncomfortable. At first, I didn’t really understand where my discomfort came from, and such uncomfortable interactions happened rarely, anyway, in my privileged, international university campus bubble. But over the years such interactions started happening more regularly, and lately they’re happening more frequently than ever before. In time, I learned that these uncomfortable interactions have a name: microaggresions. They are questions, comments, or remarks that on the surface seem harmless, but which are actually rooted in often harmful or unjust assumptions.

Here’s what I mean. Picture this:

I stand at the bus stop, waiting for my bus to arrive. As the first bus approaches, the sweet old lady waiting in the queue asks what service number it is, because she can’t make it out due to her poor eyesight. I oblige. It turns out it isn’t her bus, and it isn’t mine either. But the old lady has noticed something, and she can’t help herself.

“Where are you from?” she asks.

“Originally?” I ask, feeling uncomfortable already.

“Yes!” The old lady seems positively enthusiastic now.

“Originally, I’m from [Eastern European country],” I answer, “but I have lived here for over a decade. What gave me away? Was it my accent?”

“YES, it’s SO exotic!” The old lady delights in the adjective.

A barrage of questions then follows. I see it coming, it’s happened many times before. There’s a list of questions and remarks, almost always the same:

  • Why did you move here?
  • Do you like it here?
  • What do you do now?
  • Your English is really good! (“Thank you,” I always say, “I’ve been living here for a long time.” “But it’s so good!” the person typically insists. “Did you study English in school?” “Yes, I studied English for 12 years before coming to Britain.” “Wow, that’s a long time!” my interlocutor always marvels).
  • Do you go back home often? (I want to say “this is my home, too” but I have never been able to work up the courage. In the moment, getting interrogated by a stranger, it doesn’t feel like home anymore).
  • Do you plan to stay here? (Or the more straightforward “You plan to stay here, right?” that doesn’t actually expect an answer).

The people starting these “conversations” and pursuing them relentlessly are always strangers, people I have never met before and whom, in all likelihood, I will never see again: strangers at the bus stop or coach station, cashiers, taxi drivers. They all feel entitled to my time and to my life history within a 5 to 20 minute span, depending on the wait.

Sometimes, there are more intrusive and bizarre questions or comments, too, like:

  • You don’t look [like a person from your country of origin].
  • You don’t sound [like a person from your country of origin].
  • Did you already speak English when you moved here?
  • Are you here [i.e. in this country] on your own?
  • People in [your country of origin] are really poor, aren’t they?
  • Do you have any family left [in your home country]?

Are these people just curious to find out more about a friendly stranger with an unplaceable accent? Perhaps. But I doubt that they ask their conationals “where they’re really from” and “if they visit home often” while making small talk at the bus stop.

All of these questions are based on assumptions: that I shouldn’t be able to speak the country’s language as well as I do, that I moved here because I had no opportunities in my country of birth, that I want to stay because I want to continue to enjoy opportunities I shouldn’t be entitled to. This is what all these questions and comments read like to me.

Often I try to dodge them, or deflect, or suggest discomfort. So far, none of my strategies have worked. If I ask “why do you ask?”, instead of feeling embarrassed, as I might expect them to, the stranger presses on, asking for more information. If I say “I’m from [local city]”, more often than not they insist: “Were you born there though? You don’t sound like a local.”

If I try to talk about my job, about my studies, or about the weather, the interlocutor always goes back to what actually interests them: “Yes, but, do you plan on going home for Christmas?”

And if I mention that I have three degrees, all in English literature, all pursued in the country, most of these strangers look surprised, baffled even. How could a foreigner complete a degree in English in their country? This is what I hear, in my mind.

These are not isolated incidents. They happen on the regular and, as I mentioned before, more often now than ever. A few months ago I wrote a short performance piece about it, after I had to go through one of these “conversations” for the umpteenth time (at another bus stop, at 6am, on a deserted street, with an inistent, talkative man twice my size).

I’m not shy or embarrassed about my trajectory in life. I find it interesting to swap life stories with people, in fact. But these strangers never offer anything about themselves, they only work at uncovering my past and motivations with what seems like a sort of hunger. These strangers aren’t looking to find a different perspective, learn about another culture, or establish a new acquaintance and stay in touch.

Sometimes, I play a guessing game with them. When they ask me where I’m from, I cheekily ask them to guess. They can spend up to 10 minutes trying to guess. It’s fun for them, and unsettling for me.

I am not entertainment when I’m waiting for the bus in the cold, trying to make my way home after a long day at work. I am not entertainment when I’m trying to bag my supermarket purchase. I am not entertainment.

Stranger, I will answer your questions, but let’s make this a fair exchange. Who do you think you are and where is your  family? You show me yours, I’ll show you mine.

This Blog post was originally published on Maria’s blog:

Monday, August 10, 2020

Why regional universities and communities need targeted help to ride out the coronavirus storm

by Mehmet Aslan, The Conversation:

Australian universities are expected to lose billions of dollars in revenue due to the impacts of COVID-19. The estimated lost revenue from international students alone is A$18 billion by 2024. While all universities are affected, regional universities and communities are the most vulnerable.

Regional communities have limited resources, so their universities play a pivotal role in their economies. These universities must adjust to the rapidly changing circumstances and government policy changes, or risk jeopardising regional economic growth and jobs. Without targeted government support for these smaller universities, the long-term impacts on regional communities could be devastating.

The Regional Universities Network (RUN) includes CQUniversity, Southern Cross University, Federation University Australia, University of New England, University of Southern Queensland, University of the Sunshine Coast and Charles Sturt University. CQUniversity, where 39% of students are international students, has a revenue shortfall of  A$116 million for 2020. Charles Sturt University (32% international students) faces a loss of about A$80 million.

Charles Sturt University campus at Bathurst, NSW
Charles Sturt University has announced cuts to courses and jobs because of its deficit. Geoff Whalan/FlickrCC BY-NC-ND

What are the regional economic impacts?

All universities face job losses as a result of COVID-19. But the impacts of these job losses are greatest for regional economies.

RUN chair Helen Bartlett told a federal parliamentary committee hearing in May:

Job losses from regional universities have a significant impact on regional communities when there are few alternatives for professional employment locally.

RUN chair Helen Bartlett
The RUN chair, Professor Helen Bartlett, notes that when regional universities shed jobs their local communities have few professional employment alternatives. USC News

She called on the government to double the annual regional loading funding of A$74 million.

Regional universities educate around  115,000 students each year. That’s about 9% of enrolments at Australian public universities.

2018 study found regional universities inject A$1.7 billion a year into their local economies. And seven out of ten graduates go on to work in regional areas.

Regional universities also contribute over A$2.1 billion and more than 14,000 full-time jobs to the national economy.

Table showing the three main effects of regional universities on their regions
'The economic impact of the Regional Universities Network'/RUN

What is the government doing?

In April the federal government guaranteed A$18 billion in university funding this year to help the sector through the coronavirus crisis. It also provided A$100 million in regulatory fee relief.

Universities Australia chair Deborah Terry
The Universities Australia chair, Deborah Terry, has warned as many as 21,000 university jobs could be lost. Mick Tsikas/AAP

The chair of Universities Australia, Deborah Terry, welcomed this as a “first step”. However, she warned an estimated 21,000 jobs would still be lost.

In June, the government announced the Job-ready Graduates Package. It plans to lower student fees for selected courses (and raise others) to encourage study for what the government deems to be jobs of the future.

Extra support announced for regional universities includes:

  • 3.5% growth in Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding to regional and remote campuses

  • A$5,000 payments for students from outer regional, remote and very remote areas who transfer to Certificate IV study or higher, for at least one year

  • a new A$500 million-a-year fund for programs that help Indigenous, regional and low socioeconomic status students get into university and graduate

  • A$48.4 million in research grants for regional universities to partner with industry and other universities to boost their research capacity

  • A$21 million to set up new regional university centres

  • guaranteed bachelor-level Commonwealth-supported places to support more Indigenous students from regional and remote areas to go to any public university.

The government has also promised a A$900 million industry linkage fund. The aim is to help universities build stronger relationships with STEM industries and provide work-integrated learning opportunities.

What does this mean for regional universities?

The Regional Universities Network welcomed the package. Bartlett said:

Lowering the cost of the student contribution for courses such as nursing, allied health, teaching, agriculture, engineering, IT and maths should encourage greater uptake by regional students in these areas. It is estimated that there should be more places in the regions. More graduates from our universities will produce more graduates to work in regional Australia in areas of skills need.

As the COVID-19 economic battle is ever evolving, the tertiary education sector must be vigilant. Spending should be prioritised to make it equitable for all universities and their communities. Decision-makers need to be aware of the key issues affecting the success of tertiary education in the regions and their dependent communities.

Regional engagement activities and programs, backed by increased funding, improve the prospects of successfully weathering the COVID-19 storm. Regional universities can deliver national benefits, by overcoming skill shortages and meeting local workforce needs, while contributing to public and private community services such as schools and health services.

The government package is important for all universities, but this support is the only means of regional universities surviving. If they are not supported and are forced to close, regional education and economies will suffer for many years.