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Majority of international students happy with Australia despite the impacts of COVID-19

International higher education students say they still rate Australia high despite the aftermath of COVID-19. Source: Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, many international students still consider Australia a 'great' destination for higher studies, a new survey shows.

Key Points:

  • More than 87,000 responses were recorded during the survey
  • International students say their educational experience fell in 2020
  • Despite the impact of COVID-19, the overwhelming majority still rate Australian education


A new survey of more than 87,000 international students shows the majority had a ‘great experience of living’ in Australia. 

However, the 2020 International Student Experience Survey conducted between August and September as Victoria buckled under COVID-19's second wave also reported a decline in the overall student experience.  

According to the report, the international students said their learning experience was poorer due to the pandemic and its associated effects.

Lisa Bolton is the director of research and strategy of Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching at the Social Research Centre, the organisation which conducted the survey.  

Ms Bolton said the international students who participated in the survey indicated the overall quality of their entire educational experience fell in 2020 by 12 percentage points. 

This equates to a decline from 75 per cent in 2019 to 63 per cent in 2020.  

Student Experience
Much of the poor experience is attributed to COVID-19 and its implications.

The Impact of the Pandemic

Nepal-born Anjana Rauniyar is one of the international students that took part in the survey.  

Ms Rauniyar, who is in her final months of graduating as a registered nurse, said the pandemic has seriously impacted her studies.  

“We had to revert to online studies. During the exams, we were expected to turn up and practically demonstrate what we learned virtually,” she told SBS.   

Anjana Rauniyar Nepali Nurse Geelong
Nepal-born Anjana Rauniyar is one of the international students that took part in the survey.
Anjana Rauniyar

Lisa Bolton said such experiences were common among students enrolled in courses that require completing practical components.  

Compared with the students' responses in the business or IT streams, pupils in medical studies and other courses where practical work was required scored their learning experiences lower. 

“It did make a huge difference and contributed heavily to the decline of learner engagement ratings,” she said.  

The undergraduate students experience for 2019 and 2020.

She said the ratings suffered a blow as teaching moved online, away from face-to-face delivery, which she attributed to students being less able to engage with their counterparts and connect with the faculty. 

But Ms Anjana Rauniyar said international students have been let down in more ways.  

“I have to travel far for my placements. I recently went up to Warrnambool in Victoria [for placement] in the middle of lockdown. I had to book hotel accommodation and arrange my travel.” 

“During the normal situation, this could be fair but not in the middle of the pandemic, without financial support,” said Ms Rauniyar.  

“Domestic students get some support [financial], and they have friends and family for the emotional backup, but we are left on our own.” 

According to Ms Bolton, other international students enrolled in private colleges focused on international students were even more affected by the pandemic.  

Most universities, TAFEs or polytechnics have a 'blended learning' strategy implemented in their teaching and learning, and when students had to start studying at home, it was not as difficult for them as it was for private colleges.  

"Both the institutions and students were not adequately prepared for remote teaching and learning, and as a result, the overall learning experience fell," Ms Bolton said. 

Sagar Pathak
Sagar Pathak came to Australia as the pandemic was starting to spread in early 2020.
Sagar Pathak

For postgraduate student Sagar Pathak, who came from Nepal in 2020, it took almost until the latter half of the year to go out and experience the Australian education system.  

“Only after the restrictions eased [in Victoria], I was able to meet my classmates and other people,” he said. 

“It was rather nerve-racking having to arrive in a new country and then being subjected to living without much interaction. At least I was with my partner. I really feel for those doing diplomas and undergrads as they are here by themselves. Alone.” 

The Positives 

However, in other areas of the survey, the Australian education industry has performed well. 

Ninety-seven per cent of the total respondents have said studying in Australia is safe (on-campus), whilst 90 per cent of respondents claim this is true for off-campus settings. 

Overwhelmingly 91 per cent of the respondents said the overall living experience in Australia is positive.

Top 5 country breakdown: 

Student Survey
Overall living experience by country of origin (% positive rating for top 5 countries)
Based on the ISE Survey
“Overall, despite the pandemic, international students consider Australia to be a very good destination for higher studies,” Ms Bolton said.  

“Of course, international students have been hit by the pandemic but, due to the support, assistance, resource materials, teaching standards, skills and development from the educational institutions here, we have seen that students from China, India and Nepal continue to select Australia.”   

International students Anjana Rauniyar and Sagar Pathak concur. 

Ms Rauniyar said until the pandemic disrupted everything, studying in Australia was an enriching experience. Mr Pathak has found the coursework closely aligned with the local industry - providing a range of opportunities to further his career. 

According to Lisa Bolton, 94 per cent of the respondents have chosen to study in Australia for the reputation of the education system, while 90 per cent said they wanted to experience a different lifestyle and culture.    

Why student choose
Why do international students choose Australia?

Government Reaction 

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge expressed satisfaction with the survey results, saying Australia was still an excellent destination for students to study and live.  

“While our international student market has been significantly impacted by COVID-19, our fundamentals as a destination of choice remain strong,” he said in a media statement.   

Stating that nearly half a million international students have embraced Australia since the pandemic began, Minister Tudge said he was ready to welcome as many others as he could in the classroom and the community as soon as possible.  

Nepal Festival Melbourne 2018
Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge
Abhas Parajuli

“We continue to work closely with universities, states and territories on their plans to return international students when conditions allow,” he said.  

“I do acknowledge that it has been a particularly challenging time for many students and their families, both in Australia and overseas, and I thank them for sticking with us during this difficult period.”