International student Sadman Arafat was left shocked when he found out his university fees were increasing by six per cent.
The 20-year-old is studying for a bachelor of engineering at Monash University but has never set foot in a lecture theatre and attends classes from his family home in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
In November he received an email from Monash saying they will be adjusting their fees for all domestic and international students by six per cent - a figure that Mr Arafat says is unfairly high.
"The fees I'm paying for Monash are coming from my family's life savings ... the increase is like a slap to the face," he told SBS News.
Mr Arafat said offshore international students have been hit the hardest, paying for a course without access to the university's facilities and programs "as promised" and without government-funded support.
"We were already really sad and, all of a sudden, we just saw that they have announced and it's taken a toll on all of us. It contributed to our mental health."
Mr Arafat is yet to study on campus at Monash University because of Australia's strict border closures amid the global COVID-19 outbreak. Source: SBS
When the federal government announced borders would open for international students on 1 December, Mr Arafat rushed to secure a ticket to Melbourne for the first time since he began his degree, cancelling an internship he managed to secure at home.
But as Omicron made its way around the world and Australia , his flights got cancelled.
His new tickets are booked for 23 December - but uncertainty over his second shot of studying in Australia continues.
"You're actually challenging the people who are already in a very difficult situation ... people have already started looking at other colleges, isn't it demotivating?"
Monash University said in a statement to SBS News: "As part of our annual review in setting our fees, we take into account various factors, including teaching costs, market trends, demand for expertise, competitor pricing and the Consumer Price Index."
While Mr Arafat understands slight fee increases are part of the university's policy, he said COVID-19 is a global crisis that has hit international students too, making the fees now "unviable" for him and his peers to pay and .
"We are not really rich and the people who are coming to Australia to study from countries like Bangladesh and India are coming for a better life," he said.
Monash is the country's largest university and has Australia's third-highest international student uptake, with around 34 per cent of its enrolments coming from overseas. In 2020, it suffered a revenue shortfall of $140 million.
Monash Student Associaton (MSA) expressed their outrage at their university's move, saying the fee hike is a "steep change".
"For two years, international students have not had the opportunity to study abroad in its true sense due to a lack of in-person experience," president of Monash University International Student Services, John Nguyen told SBS News.
"Monash still refused to reduce fees during the past two years and continues to hike international fees. This decision is unreasonable, ridiculous, and shows a lack of empathy."
President of the MSA Ishka de Silva is calling on the federal government to provide adequate financial support to assist those like Mr Arafat who are taking out private loans to cover their tertiary education.
"Universities across Australia have been left high and dry by the Federal government," Ms de Silva said.
"The lack of financial support from the federal government is pushing universities to cut courses, freeze staff hires, and now, shoot up fees for students that are already doing it tough."
A spokesperson for the acting Minister for Education and Youth, Stuart Robert, said each university is responsible for setting its own tuition fees for international students.
"Under the legislative framework for international education, institutions must ensure students are supported in adjusting to studying and living in Australia, including the learning support to ensure a positive study experience," they said.
Like Monash, the University of Melbourne held its fees for its students in 2021 "in recognition of the challenging economic climate we were all operating in, including students and their families", a spokesperson said.
In 2022, it will increase its fees for students in line with its 2020 adjustment - an average of 3.2 per cent.
The University of Sydney has confirmed their fees will increase for international students in 2022 by an average of 3.8 per cent.