The New South Wales government has announced that it will fund temporary crisis accommodation for international students who are facing hardship due to Covid-19. The $20m relief package will include a temporary housing scheme and student support services.
“Every Australian state and territory has now heard the call to step up and support international students”
In its announcement, the NSW government said the measures would help to protect vulnerable students and maintain the state’s track record as a “leading global study destination”.
“International students are an integral part of our communities and our economy,” said minister for skills and tertiary education, Geoff Lee.
“Thousands of families around the state depend on the sector – whether through direct employment, homestays or other services.”
The temporary housing scheme will be targeted at students in “genuine need” and delivered through approved student accommodation or homestay providers.
It also provides increased support via the International Legal Service NSW, making available 50,000 free subscriptions to the multilingual My Legal Mate student app.
A new 24/7 international student support service will also offer free advice and information around the moratorium on rental evictions and medical, mental health, legal and emergency support- it will be available through a Covid-19 hotline.
Lee added that international students make a huge contribution to NSW and deserve a “helping hand”.
“Many have lost their part-time jobs, are unable to return to their home countries and do not qualify for Commonwealth government support programs,” he said.
“The additional support being announced complements efforts of our education institutions, highlighted by a combined $180 million commitment from NSW universities for their international and domestic students.”
The assistance has been welcomed by Australian HE stakeholders, but some have called for the federal government to do more to ensure a unified national approach to assisting students.
“Every Australian state and territory has now heard the call to step up and support international students,” said Universities Australia chief executive, Catriona Jackson.
“They join the nation’s 39 comprehensive universities, who have all established a wide range of supports, including hardship funds.”
However, according to Jackson, the type amount and duration of assistance international students can access varies considerably between jurisdictions.
“The state or territory an international student is studying in should not be the deciding factor in the level of support available to them.
“It is time for the Federal government to survey what is available and join in, ensuring a nationally consistent approach,” Jackson said.
The promise of support for international students has come from the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australian, Tasmanian, Victoria and Western Australian governments.
However, these promises have not always materialised. A report by the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that international students are still waiting for Victorian government help – and are relying on food programs and vouchers to survive.
It has been three weeks since the Victorian government pledged tens of millions of dollars in relief funding for the state’s international students.
Executive officer of the International Student Education Agents Association, Robert Parsonson, said that the NSW government’s announcement is a good first step but more is needed.
“There needs to be further details on the StudyNSW page on how to access the emergency accommodation,” he said.
“The state government still needs to address emergency food and financial aid”
“The state government still needs to address emergency food and financial aid. Much of the work is being done by charity and community groups.
“The City of Sydney has set up Hamper Hubs with charity OzHarvest distributing 500 hampers last week,” Parsonson added.
International education is Australia’s fourth-largest export contributing $39 billion to the national economy every year. In NSW, universities contributed $8.3bn in export income in 2018-19, supporting thousands of local jobs.