International students excluded in government’s coronavirus relief package for higher education

International students in Australia have been excluded entirely from a new higher education relief package, as the federal government ‘unashamedly’ focused on domestic students.

The package, which was announced on Easter Sunday by Minister for Education Dan Tehan, includes funding for new short courses for the unemployed, a guaranteed $18 billion for domestic students regardless of enrolment numbers, and $100 million in regulatory relief for education providers. The package provides no relief for international students, despite Education Minister Tehan announcing that ‘international education makes significant contribution’ in November, 2019.

“International education contributed $37.6 billion to the Australian economy last financial year, which was a $5 billion increase”, his press release read.

Yet, a little over four months of the statement, after the pandemic has effected international and domestic students alike, if not more, the education minister said the coronavirus relief package is ‘unashamedly focused on domestic students. We’re going to need our university sector, we’re going to need our broader tertiary sector to retrain and reskill Australians to help us emerge from the pandemic even stronger,” he said.

As per the relief package, Universities and TAFEs will be offering discounts on online courses starting in May to help fill skill shortages in the economic rebound once the coronavirus pandemic has run its course. Tertiary and international education providers will also get regulatory fee relief so they can better support domestic and international students, as well as provide exemptions from loan fees under FEE-HELP and VET Student Loans.

Education Minister Dan Tehan said the initiative will provide students and workers with the opportunity to re-skill or advance their careers after the economic disruption caused by COVID-19, while being able to maintain social distancing.

Universities Australia (UA), the peak lobby group for Australia’s 39 universities, had asked for two other forms of assistance which included hardship payments to international students struggling to pay their bills. The Government has however declined to provide the same.

Many international students, impacted by the COVID-19 health emergency, have lost their temporary jobs. Dependent upon the income for paying utilities and other daily essentials, the students are faced with economic uncertainty as they are ineligible for the federal government’s $130 billion JobKeeper scheme.