The present situation of COVID-19 has caused all the Australian Universities to shut down. The Vice-Chancellors of various universities are already expecting a huge fall in income. So, they have called on the Federal Government to provide them with some degree of financial assistance. The primary demand has been to provide all the institutions with interest-free loans as the Universities are getting ready to slash their annual budgets. This is due to the prediction of no international student enrollment in the coming semester. Around 21,000 jobs in the higher education sector and a sum of AUD 23 billion can vanish away soon. These are scary statistics but are unfortunately the harsh reality that this sector faces today.
Top Institutions Fear a Possible Collapse
The universities consider the present relief package provided to them as insufficient considering the magnitude of loss faced by them. The Vice-Chancellor of UNSW Sydney Prof Ian Jacobs pointed out that institutions are presently facing an economic crisis. He pointed out that many of the staff members can possibly lose their jobs because of a cash flow crisis. It will ultimately impact the quality of education for which the Universities in Australia are globally known for.
It is quite possible then that there can be sharp decline in local and international student enrollments. There is a possible 40% fall in income as per Julie Bishop who is the Chancellor of the Australian National University. However, the Universities can benefit in case the Australian Government keeps their annual funding at AUD 18 billion. The Universities which highly depend on international students are focusing on cost-cutting across their different campuses. The staff might be asked to take a deferred leave. There will also be no hiring of new employees.
Uncertainty for International Students
The Australian Labor Party has asked the Government to create an environment of certainty and trust in the minds of all the students. It can be possible by maintaining a federal grant scheme for the coming 3 years. The Labor Party has also insisted on providing some low-cost loans to the students and ensuring funding for the Universities till the end of the crisis. Universities are facing tremendous pressure. Lesser international student enrollments have also affected the research funds of the Universities. The Australian Universities have been known for their world-class research for years. This is the reason why 8 of the Universities in Australia also rank in the top 100 Universities globally.
Amidst the unprecedented situation, the South Australian Government has taken a bold step of announcing a relief package of AUD 13.8 million. It will provide financial assistance to those international students who are presently suffering in difficult times. Each of the 3 Universities will be getting an equal amount of funds. Moreover, there is a further emergency cash grant of AUD 500 for other students. These will primarily include those students who are not presently studying in any of these 3 Universities but are pursuing a tertiary course and living in Adelaide. Most of the Universities in Australia have taken the charge to assist the international students in all possible ways. It includes academic support, food vouchers, and emergency financial grants.
Why Can International Student Enrollments Fall in 2020-21 ?
The international students and their parents might feel reluctant to send their children abroad for a while now due to uncertainty persisting in the global environment due to COVID-19. There is also a prediction of the second wave of COVID-19 cases which is further scaring the parents. A Dutch-based global study choice platform has already conducted research on potential candidates willing to study abroad. 63% of those students felt that coronavirus will dramatically reduce the savings of their parents. 83% of the students also believed that their future travel plans will be restricted. More than a million of the international students who were already studying in the spring semester in the US have returned back home. And this is further going to affect the numbers in the coming fall semester as well.
The present conditions of COVID-19 are just adding ice to the pudding not only in Australia but also across the entire world. The students cannot travel abroad because the countries have imposed severe travel restrictions. So, this directly justifies a fall in income of the Universities. It has directly impacted the economies, implying fewer jobs for the passing graduates. The international students may not be ready to pay the same amount of fees now as they were paying before. This is because they might be more reluctant to stay at home and enrol in a virtual class. Though this virus might well impact the sector just in the short term for a year or so, yet it might have long term implications if the such viruses continue to spread in society more frequently.