Deakin researchers to develop good practice guide and resources to support international students
While there is virtually no part of the Australian economy left untouched by the COVID-19 pandemic, the international education sector has been particularly hard hit by border closures and uncertainties created by the spread of coronavirus.
According to Federal Government data, there were more than 580,000 international students studying in Australia in 2020. This dropped significantly during COVID-19. Modelling by Universities Australia shows that by 2023, universities stand to lose A$16 billion due to the loss of international students. However, there has been a recent positive rebound in the number of student visas lodged for higher education since early 2022.
‘International education enriches Australia’s universities, culture, society and the economy,’ says Professor Ly Tran from Deakin University’s Strategic Research Centre in Education, Research for Educational Impact (REDI).
‘International students create long-lasting ties that enhance Australia’s multilateral relationships and international position. Providing effective support for international students is critical to Australia’s reputation as a study destination and an ethical responsibility in ensuring satisfactory experiences for this cohort.’
To support Australia’s international education sector to rebuild and reposition for the future, Prof. Tran will lead a team, including Prof. Jill Blackmore and Ms Danielle Hartridge (Deakin), A/Prof. Helen Forbes-Mewett (Monash) and Ms Renata Aldana (Oz International Student Hub) in a national research project on good practices for international student engagement.
Deakin has been contracted by the Australian Government to implement the Best Practice International Student Engagement Project under the International Education Innovation Fund (IEIF). The IEIF is a $10 million program to support the international education sector to innovate, diversify and grow.
‘International student engagement is vital for creating a connected, creative and caring international educational experience for all students studying in Australia,’ Prof. Tran says.
‘The COVID-19 pandemic, recent border closures and the large-scale pivot towards online or blended learning present a range of challenges to international students and education providers in Australia and around the world. This means we need to re-imagine student engagement in the post-pandemic environment.’
Prof. Tran and her team will work with the international education sector and communities to identify what good practice in international student engagement looks like, determine enabling and inhibiting factors and investigate how international students can be more effectively supported.
The project will focus on crucial factors, including fostering engagement between domestic and international students; engagement between international students and the local community; and support services for employability, accommodation, finance, mental health and wellbeing.
‘Offering a range of suitable on-campus and off-campus student activities is critical to fostering international students’ connectedness and a sense of belonging,’ Prof. Tran says.
‘It’s vitally important to assist international students to navigate crises such as health or financial crises, natural disasters, geopolitical or war crises that happen globally, in their home country, or affect the bilateral relationship between their home and host countries, as all these can impact on international students’ experiences.’
Prof. Tran says it’s important to increase recognition of the value international education and international students bring to the Australian community.
‘Domestic students and the broader Australian community lack understanding of international students and their values and this is among the key factors hindering their connection with students from abroad,’ she says.
An Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow within REDI, Prof. Tran has devoted her career to higher education, diversity, international graduate employability, student mobilities and the teaching and learning of international students, with a focus on building connections between Australia and Vietnam through education.
In 2019, Forbes Vietnam named her as one of Vietnam’s 50 most influential women for her leading research into Vietnamese higher education reform and international student mobility.
For Prof. Tran, this project is especially meaningful.
‘I arrived in Australia 21 years ago as an international student from a small war-torn town in central Vietnam. I never imagined that one day I would have the honour to lead a national project to provide the evidence base to develop good practice guides and resources to support international students,’ she says.
‘Supporting international students is close to my heart and this has motivated me to dedicate my research career to international education.’
If you would like to contribute to this project, share resources and be kept informed of its progress and outcome, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org