Data from the International Student Sentiment Survey shared during the seminar by Edified, a specialist education consultancy, pointed to the fact that since July 2020, Australia seems to have suffered some reputation damage as a study abroad destination, said Lyndell Jacka, insights director at the company.
Presenting the insights from the survey, Jacka highlighted that support services that acknowledge and address the needs of international students during the global pandemic go a long way in improving student experience and satisfaction.
The student sentiment was more or less similar for the state of New South Wales as compared to other jurisdictions in Australia, in the survey which comprised a diverse set of international students, carried out over the last three quarters.
Although a number of students were disillusioned with Australia’s higher education offering during the pandemic, a majority (72%) of international students in NSW who participated in the survey indicated that they would like to complete their education in Australia, rather than move to another country to finish their degree.
“Many were concerned about their future prospects in Australia”
This was mostly driven by the perceived high quality of education and lifestyle in the country, research suggested.
But student sentiment is polarised, Jacka noted.
“There’s a growing proportion of those feeling it’s getting worse, particularly there is an increase in those who currently feel – back in March – that we feeling very negative,” she explained, with that sentiment being more predominant among students from India and China.
“Many were concerned about their future prospects in Australia, as well as they’re starting to question the value of an Australian education, but as you know not all international students are the same, and their needs, expectations and experience.”
Three surveys in July 2020, October 2020 and March 2021 garnered more than 4,000 responses from across NSW.
Students in NSW also cited struggles with mental and emotional wellbeing, financial hardship, and uncertainties about future graduate opportunities as major issues affecting them during the pandemic.
The executive team at Study NSW, presented a detailed account of the many initiatives that had been started by the state to provide support to onshore international students during the pandemic.
Projects include the COVID-19 Help Hub; COVID-19 Disaster Payment; NSW Extreme Hardship Payment for Temporary Visa Holders (in partnership with Australian Red Cross); Food Hampers for International students; International Students Intake Support Service (a multilingual support service providing help across several areas); International Student Health Hub; and International Student Legal Service NSW (as well as the My Legal Mate App designed to provide free confidential legal information to NSW’s international students).
The NSW government recently announced $360,000 in funding towards projects focused on mental health and wellbeing. In 2020, it also funded temporary crisis accommodation for international students.
Study NSW will also be hosting the NSW International Student Awards this year, which recognise the outstanding contributions international students make to communities in NSW and celebrate excellence in international student community engagement. The awards will be held virtually in November 2021.
The last of the quarterly International Student Sentiment Surveys is currently being undertaken by The Study Australia partnership.
Agencies involved hope that results from the latest round of surveying will shed more light on issues of international student wellbeing, support services, and communications to help inform policymakers and education providers on the improvements that could be made in making international students feel more at home in Australia.
The findings of previous surveys “would suggest that students will be feeling less positive towards Australia, but we’ll wait and see”, Jacka added.
The state saw the launch of an International Student Hub earlier in 2021, an initiative led by Sydney Alliance and education agency Go Study Australia.