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COVID-19 crisis: University reinstates cancelled CoE of Melbourne international student in financial hardship

Out of the woods: Rohit Kumar has finally been told that he can sit for his final exams. Source: Supplied

“Inspired” by an SBS Punjabi story on international students impacted by COVID-19, Rohit Kumar, an Indian international student in the Melbourne campus of Charles Sturt University (CSU) says he had to “move heaven and hell” to get this result. The benefits of his efforts may be reaped by many others like him.

“A couple of weeks ago, I was shocked when I received an email from my university informing me that my CoE (Confirmation of Enrolment) has been cancelled and I will be reported to Department of Immigration for not meeting my visa conditions. My hard work of the past three years and my future appeared to have gone down the drain,” Mr Kumar tells SBS Punjabi.


Highlights:

  • Weeks before final exams, Charles Sturt University cancelled CoE of Indian international student in financial hardship
  • Rohit Kumar lost his job, couldn't get a new one due to Melbourne lockdown
  • CoE was reinstated days before exams, benefit also extended to other students in financial hardship, Mr Kumar quoted CSU as saying

'My university doesn't care for international students'

“I was also warned that if I do not pay my full fee by October 15, my case will be reported to the Department of Immigration. I was stunned. I shudder to imagine what would have happened had they decided to deport me. They don't care for international students, is what I feel,” Mr Kumar recalls.

His exams are due to start on October 19, which will conclude his Master’s in Information Technology degree. Mr Kumar had been asking for a payment plan from his university, but this has not yet been agreed to.

An email from CSU cancellation of Rohit Kumar's CoE.
An email from CSU about the cancellation of Rohit Kumar's CoE and reporting his case to Immigration.
Supplied

He says he had to seek medical help as this stressful situation severely impacted his mental health. "I was prescribed anti-depressant medication," he claims.

Fee invoices and warnings began hitting Mr Kumar’s inbox in July, just when his final semester began, and Melbourne had been under Stage 3 restrictions for months.

“I was shocked with my university’s repeated warnings since August to deposit the full fee of $11,244 despite knowing about my financial hardship, loss of employment and the hard Stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne,” says Mr Kumar.

'COVID crisis in Melbourne and India hit me hard'

“Due to the second wave of COVID-19 in Melbourne, I lost my job in the hospitality sector. I have been unable to get another job after that. Melbourne is practically shut. I have been surviving the pandemic due to the kindness of my friends who have donated accommodation and food to me,” recalls Mr Kumar.

His family back in New Delhi is also passing through challenging times, he says.

“Most of our family business is non-productive for the last many months. Therefore, I did not deem it morally right to burden my family further by asking for financial help. I had no choice but to seek the $1100 International Student Emergency Relief Fund from the Victoria government,” he says.

Mr Kumar took the matter to the university's internal ombudsman but when he didn't get the desired solution, he was referred to the New South Wales ombudsman.

CSU's warning letter for full payment of fees.
CSU's response on Mr Kumar's appeal before the ombudsman.
Supplied

'Help is at hand, just ask'

“It was a wild goose chase. The university ombudsman referred me to the state ombudsman, which in return said that the university ombudsman’s decision will be considered final. Exhausted, I decided to research a solution myself. That's when I saw a similar story done by SBS Punjabi this July, which inspired me to take up the cudgels for not just myself but also many other international students passing through the tumultuous times of coronavirus just like I was,” says Mr Kumar.

In the abovementioned story, the federal Department of Education, Skills and Employment states that a) an education provider can't require an international student to pay more than 50 per cent of the fee at once; and b) there is a legislative framework that protects international students in Australia.

When SBS Punjabi queried CSU in Mr Kumar’s case, a spokesperson replied, “Charles Sturt University is very aware of the legislative framework protecting international students in Australia, and we maintain ongoing compliance with the legislation at all times.”

The CSU spokesperson added, “the university considers all complaints seriously under relevant policies. Whilst we cannot share specific facts pertaining to this case, we can confirm that the Vice-Chancellor’s office is currently investigating this matter further.”

'Australian law protects international students'

According to the federal Department of Education, Skills and Employment, Australian education providers and international students can agree on a payment plan for their fee. Details can be found here

Mr Kumar says he had read how Australian-Indian Sports Educational and Cultural Society (AISECS), a not-for-profit orgnisation, had mediated between financially-challenged international students and their education providers during COVID-19 to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution.

Gurnam Singh, the founder of AISECS said Mr Kumar's case was one of the tougher ones he had encountered.

“It is hard to believe that a Melbourne-based education provider can cancel a CoE at a time when the city is experiencing a hard lock down and employment crisis. AISECS has come across many international students whose mental health has been severely impacted due to the coronavirus,” he said.

Gurnam Singh, founder of AISECS.
'I've been an international student in Australia. I understand the challenges they face,' says Gurnam Singh, founder of AISECS.
Supplied

'Mental suffering of international students is real"

Mr Singh adds that it took many long conversations with Charles Sturt University before Mr Kumar's CoE could be reinstated.

“With the SBS Punjabi story as our basis, we were able to achieve in four days what Mr Kumar has been trying for four months,” he says.

Such moves by Australian education providers can negatively impact the country's global image as an international education destination, Mr Singh underscores.

"Education is our third largest export. Education providers need to treat international students in a better way so that Australia looks attractive to prospective students," elaborates Mr Singh. 

Mr Kumar says that he heaved a sigh of relief on October 12, also his birthday, when he received a call from the university about the reinstatement of his cancelled CoE and an extension for the payment of his fee.

“Along with this, they have also permitted me to appear in the final exams but they still haven't agreed to a payment plan. I was delighted to know that this relief has been provided to not just me, but all other students in a similar situation. Someone has to step up and challenge the system. I'm very happy my efforts have worked for all international students in this difficult time,” Mr Kumar.

Mr Kumar received a formal confirmation of the reinstatement of his CoE on October 15, which was the deadline given earlier to deposit his fee in full. He has now been given an extension till October 30 to do the same. The university has still not agreed to Mr Kumar's request for making a payment plan.

confirmation of COE
Confirmation of reinstatement of CoE sent on October 15.
Supplied

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