In response to the 2021-22 Federal Budget released last night, many have commented that a lack of funding allocated to students has left them behind. Woroni spoke to National Union of Students (NUS) President Zoe Ranganathan, current ANU student and former ANUSA Disabilities Officer, about the NUS’ response to the budget. 

Ranganathan stressed that the only real win for students was the announcement that the 40 hour fortnightly limit on international students working in hospitality and tourism has been scrapped. Similar changes are forecast for international students working in aged care, agriculture and health. Ranganathan described this as a “good start” but flagged that it “does not address institutional mistreatment of international students in the workforce” particularly in regards to rampant issues of “wage theft, underemployment and cash-in-hand payment.” 

Further impacting international students, the budget suggested that Australia’s international borders will not open until mid-2022. The Government did propose that it would introduce small, phased programs to bring international students back to Australia, but Ranganathan argued that these are “not well-thought out logistically,” particularly given no announcements had been made regarding funding of alternatives to hotel quarantine. Ranganathan questioned how many students would be able to return and whether this would create a “two-tiered system” that would only allow the wealthiest students back. Instead, Ranganathan advocates for “a plan to communicate with anxious, concerned students” on when “they can return to their communities here in Australia.” Ranganathan believes that the vaccine rollout in Australia may assist in the return of international students, pointing out that young people are last in line for vaccination in many countries, but this is unlikely to change without Australian government cooperation with governments overseas. 

Another major announcement was the $53 million stimulus package to private institutions to facilitate their move to online teaching delivery. Ranganathan stated that the NUS is against this decision, as it neglects universities and TAFE institutions. With no concrete plans to bring international students back to Australia, she claims that this stimulus only perpetuates the use of international students as “cash cows” to maintain education as Australia’s fourth largest export. Ranganathan suggested that it is decisions like these that prompt international students to go “elsewhere, like the US, Canada and the UK; [as] there is no incentive for them to stay” with Australian institutions. 

The Government also announced that from early 2022, new residents would be required to wait four years to access most welfare payments. Ranganathan believes this will impact “whether students stay in Australia or come here in the first place” and demonstrates “a lack of care” from the government, and could lead to students heading to New Zealand or Canada instead. 

ANU Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt echoed many of these concerns in an op-ed published online in The Guardian today. Schmidt declared that “it’s absolutely imperative we open our national border and return our international students as soon as we safely can.” Additionally, Schmidt expressed that “[it’s hard] to understand … why the university sector has been left to bleed, given what most might expect to be its pivotal role in the future growth of the Australian economy,” concluding that “there is no shortcut to expertise.”

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