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“Confused about what to look forward to”: Stranded Nepali students uncertain over Australia return

New hopes for fully vaccinated international students to return to Australia. Source: Getty Images

As Australia ramps up plans to welcome back fully vaccinated international students, many studying online from abroad say they remain in the dark about their future.

The NSW International Student Arrivals Pilot Plan has been good news for Nepali students waiting to enter Australia. 

Many are enrolled in Australian universities, paying Australian dollars, but unable to gain a face-to-face study experience following Australia’s international border restrictions. 


Highlights

  • Nepali students continue their Australian courses online offshore
  • TGA vaccine requirements leave students in dilemma
  • First chartered plane with returning international students to land in Sydney on 6 December

Nepali students unable to enter Australia

Aradhya Gyawali, a Nepali student at Charles Sturt University (CSU), told SBS Nepali that one needs to put in extra effort while studying online and cannot simply depend on the university.  

“It gets difficult if you just take part in the online classes – you need to refer to other online sources as well, such as Google, YouTube and e-books,” said Gyawali, who has been attending his Bachelor of Information Technology (IT) classes online for almost a year.  

Nepali student Aradhya Gyawali studies with Charles Sturt University, Australia.
Nepali student Aradhya Gyawali studies with Charles Sturt University, Australia.
Supplied by Aradhya Gyawali

Bishwatma Dawadi, who is doing his second semester at CSU from Nepal, said his study experience has been similar.  

“Online classes are more theoretical than practical – so I have also been referring to other online sources,” he said.  

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International students saddened by lack of communication from the Universities
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CSU has stated that they are anticipating the return of international students on campus by semester one, 2022. 

“We are trying to return students who have practical components to their courses or work placements that are not available via online learning,” a CSU spokesperson stated in their response to SBS Nepali’s query.  

“However, we are also working to return all our continuing students overseas, regardless of their course requirements.” 

Bishwatma Dawadi studies with Charles Sturt University, Australia.
Bishwatma Dawadi studies with Charles Sturt University, Australia.
Supplied by Bishwatma Dawadi

Financial burden

Studying Australian courses while being situated in Nepal has come with pros and cons for students.  

One of the main problems for students and their families is the financial burden, says Dawadi.  

Surya Bahadur Thapa, who has been enrolled in Charles Darwin University (CDU) under a 25% scholarship, said that his university has not given any discounts on the study fees despite the situation.  

“The financial burden is obviously there,” he said. 

“I have actually taken out a loan – it should be paid in three months, and the current situation is quite difficult.” 

Nepali student Surya Bahadur Thapa is a student with Charles Darwin University, Australia.
Nepali student Surya Bahadur Thapa is a student with Charles Darwin University, Australia.
Supplied by Surya Bahadur Thapa

On the other hand, studying in Nepal has given some students time to focus solely on their academic pursuits.  

In comparison to juggling work and study as a student in Australia, CSU’s Gyawali said studying from the comfort of one’s home is convenient in a way.  

“In Nepal we can live and study in a loving environment with our parents, but there [Australia] it’s different – you have to work, you have to push yourself and struggle,” he said.  

Communication between unis and students

Despite recent developments, CDU student Thapa said that his university has not been in regular communication regarding the return of international students.  

“They sent an email four months ago stating to ‘get ready’ – but there has been no response after that,” he said.

“There has not really been any response or news [from the university] so far – I am confused about what to look forward to."  

 Joanne Crystal, Director CDU Global at Charles Darwin University, said that the university has communicated with students via email when they have received government updates regarding the return of international students.  

Responding to SBS Nepali’s query, she stated: “We have remained in contact with students via email, student newsletters, and online social events including virtual coffee catch-ups, talent shows, wellbeing and meditation sessions, and an online buddy program. We also have a CDU Virtual Student Club which students studying online offshore are encouraged to be a member of.” 

Along with updating their online FAQs regarding the return of international students weekly, CDU hopes to welcome students back on campus by 2022. 

Charles Darwin University
Charles Darwin University
Flickr: Michael Coghlan

In the same context, CSU stated, “the frequency of communication to students varies on a case-by-case basis, as do their specific concerns”. 

The university also mentioned that communication to their offshore students is not limited to email, web chat, social media and their contact centre, but includes interactions with course directors and lecturers too.  

“Students continuing to study via online learning also receive contact for their academic studies via the online learning management system and standard course delivery and interactions with course directors and lecturers.”

Australia's reopening 

To help students return to Australia, CSU has stated it will cover the costs of quarantine for students under the NSW International Student Arrivals Pilot Plan. 

However, students who have been vaccinated by vaccines not regulated or approved by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) are uncertain about what is to be done next.  

Thapa, who has taken the Vero Cell vaccine like many other Nepali nationals, faced this dilemma.  

However, TGA has recently recognised Vero Cell, also known as BBIBP-CorV (Sinopharm China), for the purpose of establishing a traveller's vaccination status for entry into Australia.

Updated information about vaccines recognised or approved in Australia is available on the TGA’s website.  

Australia's TGA has given the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine provisional approval.
Australia's TGA has given the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine provisional approval.
Sipa USA Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/Sip

The NSW International Student Arrivals Pilot Plan is said to allow 250 international students studying with NSW education providers to return each fortnight from early December 2021.  

The first chartered plane of returning international students under the plan is scheduled to touch down in Sydney on Monday, 6 December. 

It will carry around 250 students from over 15 nations, including Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, China and Canada, with a second flight to bring in students from South Asia and India also scheduled. 

Initially under the pilot, all students must be fully vaccinated with a TGA-recognised COVID-19 vaccine before landing in Sydney. 

NSW government has announced it will not require international students to quarantine if they are fully vaccinated with a TGA-recognised vaccine. This aligns with quarantine requirements for returning Australians. 

Likewise, South AustraliaACTVictoriaQueensland, Western Australia, Northern Territory and Tasmania are also working closely with the federal government on plans to bring back international students.