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A digest of initiatives undertaken by Institutions during COVID-19

Voices of loved ones, familiar smells and home-cooked meals: These are some of the things that most international students pine for while they are studying abroad. When such things are hard to access, with students sitting thousands of miles away from their hometowns, the one thing that continues to comfort and re-assure students abroad is kindness – in classrooms, international students offices and halls.

With the onset of COVID-19 there is extreme uncertainty, anxiety and fear of the unknown amongst students across the world. During this period, it is vital for institutions to demonstrate care and concern for all students at this time but there is a particular need for international students to see “ acts of kindness” as it will make a huge impact in how they are perceived in the future as we emerge from the COVID-19 situation.  International students form a big component of the overall strategy devised by higher education institutions today: they increase the social and cultural diversity of campuses, enrich the research and learning environment and help home students to develop internationally relevant skills. It is now more than ever that colleges and universities will be assessed on how they treat those students.

Various university leaders from around the world have reported that international students were unhappy with the way certain governments responded to the outbreak and the inadequate measures that were taken to safeguard student communities. There is a dire need for consolidated messaging and action from governments as well as institutions to reassure students during these uncertain times.

Below, we outline some of the key initiatives taken by our partner universities to support their International students in various domains as a result of the COVID-19 crisis:

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Peer Group and Mental Health Support

University of Sydney: The University has established a peer support advising program for students who have questions about COVID-19 and impacts to their studies. The team of peer support advisors are students who are trained in referring students to relevant information, University units and support services and can help students with a range of questions know where to go to find the right answers, in this time of distress and uncertainty. The peer support advisors can also help students remotely via Zoom sessions. For more details click here

University of Queensland: For its current students, UQ has set up a virtual village that connects them with volunteers, mentors, alumni and student support. For mental wellbeing, students are advised to attend workshops and social events. Additionally, UQ is offering ‘Hardship Hampers’ with basic supplies on a case to case basis. For more details click here

Technology Support

University of Auckland: The New Zealand government has established a $20 million-dollar fund to support students facing access issues arising from online learning. This government support complements the existing University of Auckland programme where all students can access laptops and hotspots to enable internet access. So far, the university has distributed over 250 laptops and 80 WiFi hotspots. For more details click here.

Healthcare Support

University of Wollongong:  The university is contacting new and returning international students, including those who may have been impacted by travel restrictions, to provide the latest information and advice from health authorities and offer assistance and support. For more details, click here

Accommodation and Food Support

University of South Florida: USF’s food pantry helps fight student hunger amid the virus pandemic. The coronavirus pandemic has left many college students jobless and hungry, but a local university’s food pantry is stepping in to help their students. For more details click here

Sheridan College: Sheridan College has launched a #SheridanHelps Initiative to support students and communities. Sheridan students are able to apply to the COVID-19 Emergency Financial Aid Bursary, kickstarted with an initial sum of $1M. Students, both international and domestic are eligible to receive up to $1,500 to assist with immediate needs like food and housing as they cope with the loss of part-time jobs. For more details click here

Study Brisbane: International students impacted by the coronavirus pandemic in Brisbane are being nourished by 10,000 nutritious FareShare meals a week. Foodbank Queensland is helping deliver the cooked meals to Study Brisbane’s network of education providers for direct distribution to international students facing financial hardship. The cooked meals aim to feed students doing it tough after losing their jobs with many unable to return home or access financial support. For more details click here.

Innovative Solutions

University of Bristol: An innovative solution implemented by the university is to provide the local SME’s with £100,000 to be used for funding 100 internships. Interning students are paid from the funds while the businesses benefit from the expertise of the students. A win-win for both parties by utilizing Innovative thinking and practical application. For more details click here.

Financial Support

Massachusetts College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences (MCPHS): At MCPHS all students, of any nationality, who were supporting themselves via part time jobs at the university have been paid their salaries in full during the COVID lockdown. The university has further opened up its campus hostels for students and have given them the option to come and stay at the hostel accommodation temporarily. For more details, click here

University of the West of Scotland: In recognition of the fact that International students are not eligible for statutory funding by the government in Scotland, UWS has created a dedicated hardship fund for international and EU students who are currently living in the UK and have not returned to their home country. For more details click here

Federation University: The university will provide financial assistance to support eligible domestic and international higher education students currently enrolled at a Federation campus, including those enrolled via flexible and online delivery, impacted by a reduced income due to reduction in or loss of employment as a result of the impacts of COVID-19. For more details click here

Conclusion

These are just some of the many initiatives that have been undertaken by our partner universities over the past two months. We urge our partners and other universities to re-examine their response strategy to queries raised by international students and try to devise support mechanisms, either in-person or virtually, that will make the students feel safe, secure and cared-for.

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