Dissuaded by Australia’s strict border closure, many international students currently stranded in India are now feeling compelled to consider moving their immigration dream to Canada, which has recently opened its borders to overseas students.
Sandeep Kaushik travelled to India in March this year to recover from his injuries that he had sustained in a road accident in Sydney, that stalled his life and forced him to defer his undergraduate degree.
The 28-year-old business student who had planned to return in May after a full recovery didn’t know at the time that six months later, his world would be rocked yet again.
- Many Indian international students consider shifting their Australian dream to Canada
- 53% of students are considering switching destinations if they can start on campus sooner - report
- More than 6,600 currently-enrolled international students are stranded in India
As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Australia slammed shut its international borders, leaving over 6,000 current students in the lurch - with incomplete degrees and many without their belongings or visas nearing expiry.
“Those like me who were in India were hit the hardest, while Australia expected us to pay the same tuition fee for distant learning.
"What's worse is that since then, not once has Australia given us a solid timeline indicating when we can return, unlike Canada which true to its words has started to permit at least current students back into the country,” rued Mr Kaushik.
Mr Kaushik said Australia’s ‘lack of empathy’ or a formidable plan to fly back its international students has left him with no choice but to consider moving to Canada – which is now letting its offshore students return.
We went to Australia by choice, and now we are are being forced to take our talent and skills to Canada instead
Over 10,000 Indian students have left Australia between March and October:
India is the second-largest source of overseas students for Australia accounting for 15% of all overseas enrolments Down Under, second only to China.
According to research conducted by Mitchell Institute based on numbers released by the government, there were 91,994 Indian students in Australia when the pandemic struck in March.
This number reduced by a further 10,000 as on 25 October 2020, since many students exited the country in the wake of the financial crisis induced by the pandemic – a bruise made worse by the Morrison Government’s directive asking students return to their source countries, and deepening the budget black hole for Australia’s beleaguered higher education industry.
'Australia needs to tell international students we're open to welcoming them again'
Gabriela D'Souza, senior economist at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia said Australia’s $40 billion worth international education sector faces a ‘very big’ risk that could potentially extinguish the goodwill the country has built over the years, if it’s not careful.
“Negative perceptions have emerged from a number of sources including the government’s decisions to exclude international students and other temporary migrants from income support, as well as suggestions that they should return home,” she said.
Ms D’Souza said Australia can do some damage control to revive the sector buckling under financial pressure and massive job losses by reopening its borders to international students.
“If we can show that we are still committed to an international education sector that achieves positive outcomes for its students and that we’re open to welcoming them again, there’s no doubt we’ll be able to hold our own against our competitors,” she said.
The sentiment towards Australia has not shaken up in India alone.
As per a recent survey conducted by international education firm, IDP Connect, more than half of overseas students with offers from Australian universities are mulling to switch over to other global study destinations that have softened the border restrictions.
Simon Emmett, the CEO of IDP Connect said Australia’s international education sector is facing an imminent threat from countries like Canada and UK, because of their effectiveness to communicate and act on solid timelines for the resumption of travel to offshore students.
“Countries that have communicated strongly that international students are welcome, such as the UK, have seen a rise in attractiveness compared to countries with stricter border controls, such as Australia,” said Mr Emmett.
'Leaving Australia for Canada wasn't an easy choice'
While the UK took the lead to allow international students back on campus, Canada reopened its much-awaited corridor for foreign students studying in select designated learning institutes in mid-October, albeit with some caveats.
Motivated by Canada’s ‘liberal policies’ towards immigrants despite the pandemic, hospitality student Gurpreet Singh who was formerly based in Melbourne has recently made the transition from Australia to Canada, embodying the shift that many displaced students have started to consider.
The 26-year-old who received his study permit for Canada in September told SBS Punjabi that the decision to never return to Australia and switch to Canada wasn’t an easy one.
“It wasn’t easy, and it didn’t make me happy because I loved Australia and everything it had to offer. But the recent decisions of the government demotivated me and from what I could gauge, even if Australia opens its borders early next year, students from India may not be considered until the very end given the pandemic situation in India.
“Secondly, from what I have learnt, Canada offers relatively easier pathways to permanent residency as compared to Australia which was another reason why I chose to apply for Canada,” said Mr Singh who is set to travel to British Columbia next month.
'Canada is determined to get Australia's market share'
Phil Honeywood, the chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) said there is no doubt that Canada is 'very determined' to usurp Australia’s market share while it remains closed, but added that Australia’s success in controlling the virus cannot be discounted and would reap benefits for the education sector in the long run.
“As we go into winter in the northern hemisphere, it obviously raises concerns about the pandemic being more challenging during the cold period. It is also more difficult to obtain part-time jobs when countries like Canada are in a recession.
“Also, many of the Canadian education institutions are not fully open for face to face lectures and tutorials because they have to first get permission from the provincial government that it is COVID-safe, which requires an order. So, it’s important for any student to do their research before they travel and study in any country,” he said.
Status on pilot plans
Charles Darwin University in Northern Territory became the first Australian university to successfully bring back 63 of its international students last month. CDU is currently working on plans to organise further charter flights – one of which will be arranged for its share of students stuck in India.
In a statement to SBS Punjabi, a CDU spokesperson last week said: “CDU has held discussions about chartering a flight from India to fly back international students, but a final decision has not been made yet.”
Other states including New South Wales and Victoria – which together host the largest number of international students from India have also indicated that they are working on detailed proposals to bring back offshore students with South Australia set to bring back a large share of students starting from January next year.
Ravi Lochan Singh, an education consultant and the president of the Association of Australian Education Representatives in India (AAERI) said he is hoping that the buoyant response from NSW will set the wheels in motion for return of students ahead of the July 2021 intake.
“There is a feeling that once that begins, all other states too will start bringing back the students. This is on expected lines as the bulk of the vulnerable stranded Australians will be back in Australia over the next month or so.
“Victoria has also started receiving international arrivals and most states are expected to increase the caps in January. The expectation is that over the next six months most of the stranded International students who have valid visas and have started their courses online should be able to return,” said Mr Singh.
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