Dear Premier

I am writing to you because of the concern that the Council for International Students has for the situation of international students currently in Australia, particularly in WA, and for the future of our international education industry.

Firstly, however, we wish to congratulate you on your approach to managing the COVID pandemic in WA. Our isolation has given us an advantage but your policies have ensured that we have utilised this extremely well so that, together with the other measures that you have introduced, we are leading Australia in our success in combating the pandemic.

The international education industry, however, is not faring anywhere near as well. The international education industry is Australia’s largest export service industry (larger even that tourism) with an annual benefit to Australia of $39 billion and responsible for supporting 240,000 jobs. In WA it beings in $2 billion and supports 10,000 jobs.

Many international students are attracted to study in Australia because they are allowed to work up to 30 hours per fortnight. Many of the students do not come from wealthy families and rely on their jobs to provide for food and accommodation and to help pay their tuition fees. The majority of those who did have part time jobs have now probably lost them and, if they have been caught by the travel restrictions, are struggling.

Once restrictions are eased we need international students to return to their studies in Australia and we must also continue to recruit young people from around the world to come here to study. We are, after all, one of the safest places in the world these days.

However, I believe that most people do not understand that international education is vastly different from most other industries affected by COVID19. When restaurants, bars and hotels are reopened it will not be long before people will flock to them and business will be booming. Once our internal borders are opened tourism will also take off.

But not international education. Here the disaster will be long lasting. While other workers received billions of dollars of support from the federal government, international students received nothing except the opportunity to use what little superannuation that might have accumulated.

Our Prime Minster’s advice was reported around the world: 
      ‘Australian PM tells international students “Go Home”’

We need to show families around the world that we look after the sons and daughters they have sent here for their education. Looking after our current students well is critical for word of mouth feedback getting back to future students.

Other states of Australia are providing additional funding for job support schemes or financial assistance packages that will be accessible to international students, including a $45 million in Victoria and $20 million in NSW.

Your Government, on the other hand, is only freeing up some funding that Study Perth could not spend otherwise because of COVID. Further, students only qualify for this funding after they have been refused by their university and have (unsuccessfully) begged at their embassy or consulate.

The fact that the Australian Government has done so little to support them has done incalculable damage to the international education industry. Now other States are taking the opportunity to let these students know that their needs are recognised and that they are valued. WA must step up otherwise the State will lose more ground.

Strengthening our support for international students to be at least in line with other states will ensure that WA remains an attractive destination for students in the future.

This approach would continue to strengthen WA’s reputation as having one of the strongest and most compassionate leaders of this pandemic.

For the sake of the students and the industry The Council for International Students of WA implores you to develop a proper program, with adequate funding, to support those international students who are still here.

Further, while we all applaud your steadfastness in protecting our borders we are also aware that you are concerned about the effect this is having on business and lives in the state. There are reports that you will shortly be supporting the tourism industry by opening internal borders. We now implore you to join the other states that are starting to consider opening national borders to international students, to allow them to return to their studies. As Professor Jane den Hollander, VC at U.W.A., has pointed out, many of these students will be happy to spend two weeks in quarantine at Rottnest. Again, you have an excellent advantage over the other states in the way that you have provided this facility.

The international education industry is suffering as badly as any other industry and needs your support. For the sake of all of those involved in the industry and our international students we implore your to look at providing financial support to those students caught in the state without jobs and finding a way to allow those overseas to return to their studies

Yours sincerely

Kevin McKenna PhD
Council for International Students of WA

Response from the Premier – June 2020