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Australia: Regional state funding and jobs support plan “welcome relief”

Sector stakeholders have welcomed a range of new measures to help students in Australia, including the South Australian government’s AU$13.8 million funding plan to assist the state’s international students facing hardship in the wake of the coronavirus crisis – and a $20m ‘Jobs for Canberrans’ plan in the Australian Capital Territory that will throw a “lifeline” to struggling students.

The cash injection is designed to provide an economic boost to the international education sector which has suffered as a result of coronavirus restrictions. Photo: Pexels

International education is Australia’s fourth-biggest export but in South Australia, it is the largest

The funding announced in South Australia will be distributed via schemes run by the University of Adelaide, Flinders University and the University of South Australia, with applications determined against a careful set of rules to assess need.

“[International students] are very much a part of our community and we are keen to ensure they are supported”

The cash injection is designed to provide an economic boost to the sector which has suffered as a result of coronavirus restrictions; international education is Australia’s fourth-biggest export but in South Australia, it is the largest.

The International Student Support Package will include:

  • $10 million fund for university students significantly impacted by Covid-19 restrictions at the University of Adelaide, Flinders University and University of South Australia to distribute to their pathway and international students.
  • A $500 emergency cash grant to other international students significantly impacted by the restrictions, currently enrolled in a course, living in South Australia and who meet the criteria
  • And a one-off $200 assistance payment per student living with South Australian families provided to homestay families.

Trade minister David Ridgway said it was important to keep the sector strong as it underpins many thousands of South Australian jobs, with international students bringing in almost $2 billion to the state last year.

“International education plays an important role in South Australia’s economy… and we know students are having a tough time at the moment as they don’t qualify for Commonwealth Government income support in response to the Covid-19 impacts,” he said.

He said that every four international student enrolments creates one new job and 2018-19 saw international students contribute $1.92 billion to South Australia’s economy – with more than half of this usually spent in the community on living expenses.

“They are very much a part of our community and we are keen to ensure they are supported at this difficult and uncertain time,” Ridgeway added.

“Ensuring international students are supported as much as possible will assist in maintaining South Australia’s global reputation for international education and will provide peace of mind for the families of these students living thousands of kilometres away from them as we face such an uncertain time.”

StudyAdelaide chief executive Karyn Kent added that international students have been finding it tough during Covid-19.

“The number one concern expressed by all of our education providers has been for the welfare of their international students, and we expect this announcement to be a welcome relief for students and providers alike,” Kent said.

Eligible international students will be able to apply for support through the Department of Human Services, with information including eligibility criteria now available on the StudyAdelaide website.

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said she also welcomed the support package.

“It is heartening to see more State and Territory governments supporting international students that add so much culturally and economically wherever they study,” she noted.

The support package comes a day after the Australian Capital Territory government announced a $20m ‘Jobs for Canberrans’ fund that will provide employment opportunities with the ACT Public Service. It will give priority to those ineligible for existing Federal government support.

Jackson said the initiative was a potential “lifeline” to international students studying in the capital, who are able to work up to 40 hours per fortnight to supplement their living and studying costs.

“Many international students, just like their Australian friends, have seen their part-time jobs disappear overnight through no fault of their own. They continue to live and study here, despite losing their income and not being eligible for the Government’s JobKeeper support package,” she added.

“Many international students… have seen their part-time jobs disappear overnight through no fault of their own”

“The ACT government will benefit from having some very talented, industrious and appreciative international students working for them, and international students have the chance to earn some much-needed income.”

Currently, there are around 267,000 international students still living and studying at Australian universities said Jackson, adding that “every Australian university is offering hardship support for international students”.

In Tasmania, the government has announced a $3 million package to assist temporary visa holders, including international students. It consists of emergency cash payments, travel assistance and support for employers to retain their workers.

“In Tasmania, [international education] contributed $370m in export income in 2018-19 and supports thousands of jobs in the education, accommodation, grocery and tourism industries,” said Jackson.

In Western Australia, a StudyPerth Crisis Relief program has been announced, which will use funds diverted from curtailed or cancelled projects to help international students who have an acute need for food, shelter, support and health and wellbeing.

And in the state of Queensland, the government has announced the launch of a Queensland Student Hub – a new online platform providing free student support services to students across the state, as well as $2.2 million in funding for counselling, tuition support, laptops, isolation care-packs, pre-prepared meals and other living expense payments to students.

In contrast to sentiments shared by the Australian prime minister on April 3 and echoed by the acting minister for Immigration, minister for Education Dan Tehan has posted a welcoming message of support for international students currently in Australia.

A number of calls for further international student support in Australia have been made in recent weeks, with IEAA calling for a national hardship fund, Melbourne city council talking about hardship support and a No Worker Left Behind campaign taking off.

The latest announcements follow a federal government guarantee of AU$18 billion in funding to help Australia’s higher education see out the Covid-19 crisis, which was criticised as being “nowhere near enough” to address the billions of dollars in lost revenue from international students.

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