So Why Are International Students Being Forced Back on to Campus?
The Australian Government (in its wisdom) has decided that it wants all international students back on campus supported by what appears to be a less enthusiastic (perhaps cautious) Regulator (‘if it is safe and practical to do so’).
My own institution has been particularly successful in the online (and hybrid) modes forced on us by COVID-19 (which remains with us by the way). In the most recent survey (T2, 2023) 97 per cent of students preferred to stay online. The T2, 2023 SFUs indicated the highest aggregate since surveying began with 4.42/5. The most recent graduate satisfaction survey suggested a 91% satisfaction level, and the most recent QILT outcomes (SES) were the best since joining the program.
So, why the drastic declaration and demand to change what appears to be a highly successful delivery mode?
As a consequence of COVID - University and private provider campuses were essentially empty. I recall a story about a staff member taking a visiting group of professors from Thailand to a city based campus in Melbourne only to find it completely deserted – with a sole security guard on duty. Driven largely by real estate issues – the pressure has been applied to get students back on site – nothing to do with teaching and learning.
Subsequently, the various retail outlets that provide a myriad of food and merchandising options were badly neglected – often replaced with online options. Again, a driving factor for a return – given the income generation for providers and merchants – but not a teaching and learning notion – quite the opposite in fact.
Keeping International Students Out of the Work Force
The notion of getting international students back on-site and out of the workplace is seen as a positive step for domestic students searching for work – often without enthusiasm – but at least reducing the competition. This is government policy misdirected.
Poor Quality Teaching Online for Many
Universities, in particular, failed very badly (as evidenced in the QILT outcomes over the last few COVID years) as online providers. The significant retrenching of the better (casual) teachers replaced by out of touch full time staff resulted in a poor showing – certainly in the SES space. Pre-recorded classes and low-end technology did not help.
As we transition from online to F2F - https://www.ubss.edu.au/article/a-return-to-campus-and-f2f-classes-what-a-transition-model-looks-like/ - one has to wonder about the logic, wisdom, and integrity of the decision to demand that international students return to a tired and rather outdated mode – that is - face to face. There appears to be a small degree of flexibility still available (25% may be done online) and we can only hope that this is not overturned by Sector members who have performed poorly during recent times and have been exposed on a number of levels. Hopefully, real estate and retail issues do not override what is appropriate. Hopefully, common sense and integrity will prevail.
A more logical and appropriate approach would be a hybrid mode – which gives the student the option of online or face to face – or both as they see fit. The notion of allowing students to decide seems an infinitely better idea than a government imposed misstep.
Emeritus Professor Greg Whateley is the Deputy Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive Officer at Group Colleges Australia