The Prime Minister’s recent advice to international students to “Go home” was not only extremely disappointing to the more than half a million international students currently in Australia but also economically unjustified.

Millions of Australians are impacted by this pandemic and the Government is to be congratulated for the policies that it is putting in place to support workers, families, businesses and industries. Yet, despite all the Governments efforts many people will still suffer greatly.

It is difficult, under these circumstances, to plea for assistance for people who have come here of their own free will from other countries. However, a special case can be made on behalf of many international students and the hundreds of thousands of Australian who depend on them.

It is understandable that the Prime Minister is putting Australians first when considering policies that help to keep people employed but international students are very different from tourists and backpackers.

The international education industry is Australia’s largest export service industry and is responsible for supporting 240,000 jobs. If most of these students went home, it could destroy a $39 billion dollar industry.

Many international students are attracted to study in Australia not only because Australian higher education has a strong reputation internationally, but also because they can work up to 40 hours per fortnight. They come on the understanding that the Government only requires them to have funding for their first year of study. Many of the students do not come from wealthy families and rely on their part-time jobs to provide for food and accommodation and to help pay their tuition fees. Very few receive scholarships and most receive no government assistance whatsoever.

For many years Australian universities have benefited from funding from full-fee paying international students. Up until now that policy has worked well, saving the federal budget billions of dollars and enabling Australia to build a reputation as an outstanding education destination. International students over many years have made an invaluable contribution to Australia, educationally, socially and financially. Now it is time to give something back. International students need and deserve support.

Apart from considerations of social justice and the humanitarian aspects the economic arguments for supporting these students and the international education industry are overwhelming. If Australia turns it’s back on these students and they return home not only will many colleges fail to survive in the short term but Australia’s long term reputation as a reliable destination for an education will suffer greatly, causing long lasting damage to what is currently a highly valuable industry.

Universities and colleges are doing what they can to support international students, including providing teaching materials online and providing alternatives to face-to-face exams. But although many universities are stepping up to provide assistance packages for international students, they can do very little to make up for the jobs that the students are losing.

Peak bodies for international students and the industry are calling on the Government to provide support to these students. The Council for International Students of WA joins with these organisations in calling on the Government to establish a National Hardship Fund to provide support to these students and to safeguard the future of the international education industry.

Kevin McKenna

President

Council for International Students of WA