The findings were published in a study led by the University of Technology Sydney which included two surveys as part of the research, one between August and December 2019 and the other between June and July 2020.
“It is heartbreaking to see this survey”
They found that although students were facing serious hardship before the pandemic struck, the situation has significantly worsened because of the coronavirus.
“It is heartbreaking to see this survey. Students are feeling more stranded than ever, and there is no income anymore,” a spokesperson for the Council of International Students Australia told The PIE News.
“Financial hardship needs to be addressed and support has to be there otherwise this will just impact [their] mental health.
“Students don’t want to be in debt with such uncertainty, they just want to be able to meet their basic requirements,” they said.
Back in 2019, students were facing serious problems with their rent and accommodation. Key findings of the survey that took place prior to Covid-19 (7,084 respondents) showed that a total of 27% agreed that the possibility of losing their accommodation was affecting their academic studies, and 20% were concerned that they may be told to vacate at short notice.
About one in five students (22%) were worried that if they complained about the standards of the property or maintenance they may be asked to leave.
“The impact of financial stress related to rent was evident: a total of 22% of respondents agreed that they ‘quite often … go without necessities like food’ to pay for their accommodation,” the report highlighted.
The second survey (852 of the original respondents) found that this situation had significantly worsened – in part due to dramatic job losses.
Some 59% of students surveyed were working before the pandemic but 61% reported losing their jobs in the second survey.
It also showed that over half (54%) found themselves worrying about paying the rent each week and that a third (33%) agreed that they quite often go without necessities like food so that they can pay for their accommodation.
According to the report, “disturbingly” 21% of respondents said they feared they could become homeless and 32% reported that they were ‘finding it difficult to eat properly’.
Now advocacy groups including Universities Australia, CISA and IEAA are calling for Australia’s federal government to do more to help international students.
“We call on the Federal Government to join the state and territory governments and the university sector in offering ongoing support”
Universities Australia chief executive, Catriona Jackson, stressed that support has been offered by state and territory governments as well as universities.
In the case of universities, this support includes cash grants to cover essentials such as groceries and/or rent, accommodation bursaries, subsidised accommodation, free legal tenancy advice, free meals on campus, mental health support and waivers and/or refunds of some university fees.
However, while universities and state and territory governments are mounting individual efforts to support students, so far there has been no unified approach from Australia’s federal government.
“We call on the federal government to join the state and territory governments and the university sector in offering ongoing support to temporary visa holders in Australia,” she said.
The call to step in was echoed by IEAA’s CEO Phil Honeywood, who explained that under Australia’s federal system of government, housing is entirely a state and territory government responsibility.
“Throughout the pandemic to date, we have seen varying degrees of support for international students facing accommodation challenges,” he told The PIE.
Honeywood explained, however, that the problem in Australia is that there is no uniform national policy that is easily navigated by distressed students.
“The best advice is that they proactively engage with the Study Hub staff in each major city such as Study Melbourne, StudyPerth, etc,” he said.
“Recommendations include reducing all international fees for 2021 by a minimum of 25%”
Others have suggested that more has to be done by universities and state governments, as well as the federal government.
President of Association of Australian Education Representatives in India, Ravi Lochan Singh, is due to offer recommendations around how to help international students in Australia at an AAERI convention on August 25.
These recommendations include reducing all international fees for 2021 by a minimum of 25%. According to Lochan Singh, students who are currently studying part of the course in partly online mode should further be subsidised.
In addition, Lochan Singh will suggest that all international students currently in Australia should be offered “one extra year” PSW on completion of the course to help with “return on investment”.