In 2022, the Australian government announced the temporary lift on working hour caps for international students, and we covered in our last blog what the implications are to the students and how institutions can better support them in their studies. After that announcement the higher education sector were very vocal in their opinion with uncapping of work hours and that it would draw the focus of students away from their studies and their core objective. Months after lifting the capped hours, the Federal government has announced its decision to put the limit back on hours that international students were permitted to work which will take effect on July 2023.
“Universities support the cap on working hours to ensure students are receiving the full benefits of the world-class education they seek in Australia. This is what sets them up for a fulfilling and rewarding career, here or back home,”
- Peter Chesworth, Deputy Chief Executive at Universities Australia
If we recall, the reason why the government lifted the work restrictions for Australian student visas was to address the skills shortages and make the country an attractive place to study among international students. This is still an ongoing problem within the country which is why the government also announced that it was extending post-study work rights for international graduates as a measure towards managing the skills shortages. International graduates with select bachelor’s degrees will be permitted to stay in Australia for a minimum of two to four years in the new post-study work rights. This will still make Australia an attractive option for international students that want to have high-skilled careers after their studies.
At the moment, only 16% of international students stay on after their studies end, This will mean they can stay on longer and use the skills they’ve gained in Australia to help fill some of the chronic skills shortages we have right now.”
- Jason Clare, Education Minister for Education
This does seem like a win-win situation where universities get to have their student’s focus back, and students get to have their dream for a better career within Australia after studies. Although this sounds like positive news for the education sector and to international students, it still brings some potential implications that we need to consider.
Impacts on international students
“Currently, most students are clocking unlimited hours to finance their studies and manage the overall living expenses in Australia, which are skyrocketing. The limit of 24 hours a week would break the backs of many students who only come to Australia with the funds for the first semester and rely on onshore jobs to churn out tuition fees for the remainder of their degrees.”
- Guveer Singh, an Indian business student studying in Melbourne, Australia
International students have diverse perspectives on the reinstatement of cap working hours. Many echo the sentiments shared by Australians, expressing concerns about the rising inflation rate in Australia.
According to Australian Bureau if Statistics, the most significant price rises were Housing (+9.9%), Food and non-alcoholic beverages (+8.0%) and Transport (+5.6%).
And for the financially disadvantaged students, there’s more increased pressure to support themselves and their struggling family back in their home country. There’s no doubt that many students will have mental health problems just trying to survive in a new country while also supporting themselves in these economically challenging times.
Impacts on higher education
Although the reinstation of the capped working hours for international students is a positive news for the higher education sector, retention rates are slowly dipping and becoming an issue that the sector is facing.
Based on research and survey, the top 5 reasons why students consider early departure are:
- Health or stress (50%)
- Study/life balance (27%)
- Difficulties related to workload (27%)
- Personal reasons (25%)
- Financial difficulties (23%)
(data source: Universities Australia: HE Facts and Figures 2022, page 62)
International students have reportedly been arriving in Australia to enroll in university courses, only to later switch to vocational or private colleges. While the reasons behind this switch remain unclear, it poses challenges for universities. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of the institution to provide support throughout the students' studies and rekindle their enthusiasm for learning, regardless of the reasons for their switch.
5 ways providers can support international students through their studies
1. Tailor your support services to cultural needs
According to Orygen, a renowned research and knowledge translation organisation that focuses on mental health concerns among young individuals, that despite the provision of certain mental health support by most Australian educational institutions to their international students, the level of their active participation in these services remains limited.
The Guardian published an article revealing findings from the 2021 Victorian coroner's report, which highlighted that 47 suicides among international students had occurred in the state over the decade leading up to 2019. Samuel McKay, a lead author of the research, pointed out that despite the increasing numbers of students returning this year, there is still a lack of effective international suicide prevention measures in place.
“Unfortunately, this support is rarely tailored to international students’ cultural needs, which limits service engagement… Similarly, all educators have orientation programs that generally include information about mental health support and other programs to help students manage the transition to Australia, but again these programs do not appear to lead to effective service engagement.”
- Samuel McKay, research fellow in suicide prevention at Orygen
To effectively address the needs of international students in Australia, it is crucial to gain a deep understanding of the students and their specific situations. As stated by McKay, implementing culturally adapted services, enhancing risk screening, and fostering collaborative mental health services that offer culturally sensitive care are necessary to bridge the gap. Obtaining real data directly from the international student population can provide valuable insights and inform targeted interventions.
Some potential data sources include:
- Student surveys – Ask students about their situation, concerns, and how they’d like you to support them
- Student information systems / CRMs– Analyse grades, background, assessment scores, attendance records, and behavioural data
- Student support tickets – Monitor past tickets and review recorded history of international students to identify patterns and propose adjustments to better accommodate a specific group of students.
The evidence you have gathered can be used to suggest modifications for comprehensive support, which should be directly connected to the needs of the international students. Additionally, you can use this information to pinpoint students who are at a higher risk of struggling or dropping out. With these valuable insights, you can devise personalized support strategies and re-engagement programs that target high-risk students, improve retention rates, and enhance their chances of success.
2. Diffuse stigma around mental ill-health and promote positive mental health awareness
Several decades ago, there was a prevalent stigma that discouraged individuals from openly discussing mental health issues. However; in recent times, the awareness and acceptance of mental health challenges have grown significantly, particularly due to the impact of the pandemic. Despite the increased normalization of mental health discussions today, there are still individuals who may feel apprehensive or fearful about seeking help. In one Australian study, 25.3 per cent of participants who had mental health difficulties said they had not sought help because they were afraid, anxious, embarrassed or ashamed to do so (Wynaden et al., 2013).
According to a study on mental health concerns among international students in Australia, students faced challenges due to cultural differences in understanding mental illness and navigating the Australian mental health system. As a result, many international students delayed seeking help for mental health issues until it was too late to receive the necessary care to support their academic success. This highlights the need for better support and resources to address mental health among international students in Australia. (Orygen, Under the Radar report)
Student services and support teams can play a role in helping students understand and overcome mental health challenges by:
- Promote a supportive and inclusive campus with services that can help support students with mental health
- Raising awareness and tackling stigma by having Mental Health Week events to break the barrier and increase awareness about mental ill-health
- Communicate with student body, staff, parents, or carers the available support for the students.
- Create prevention programs or social campaigns around mental ill-health to encourage students to seek help whenever they feel overwhelmed.
3. Provide practical career support and advice
Career advice and constant demonstration of the value of higher education can encourage students to pursue their degree. The 2022 Graduate Outcomes Survey showed the employment rate for domestic graduates increased by almost 10 percent since 2021, with 78.5 percent of students securing full-time employment within four to six months of completing their course. The full-time employment rate for international graduates rose by 14.7 percent from 2021 to sit at 57.7 percent. This shows that higher education providers effectively prepare students to go on to rewarding careers.
With current reports about international students arriving in Australia on university course and then switching to vocational or private colleges, institutions may need to relook at better supporting their students through their choice of degree to guide them to the career path they sought to have. Here are some ways you can do this:
- More campus career fairs – this will allow students to see and speak to potential companies they can work for when they graduate and give them more encouragement to pursue that dream.
- More internship opportunities – build partnerships among various companies to build an array of internship opportunities.
- Career Symposiums - bring together your alumni or industry leaders to talk and share their experience in their career. This will give students a view of what they could be and potentially ask some burning questions they wanted answers from a working professional in their industry.
- Helping students get work-ready for post-graduate roles that match their qualifications
4. Offer omni-channel support
Best practice student support meets your students where they’re at. This means being available and responsive across an increasingly broad range of platforms, including:
- Live chat (with humans or bots)
- Knowledgebase or articles
- Email enquiries
- Social media
- Support requests and ticketing systems
- Appointment booking
- Video calls
- Phone calls
- In-person meetings
Omni-channel support can help to ensure your students get the information and support they need in a format that’s most accessible and comfortable to them. Plus, 24/7 and self-service options will be critical for students who choose to work longer hours.
5. Implement a student support and wellbeing solution
To efficiently support international student’s wellbeing and communication, you may need to upgrade your systems to a purpose-built student support tool.
Tribal Student Support and Wellbeing is a full enquiry and case management suite, built for education and delivered in the cloud. Features and options include:
- Personalised student support experience
- Personalised and secure enquiry history for transparency and consistency of support for both staff and student
- Assign teams for different cases and allocate resources to provide better student support
- Capture unique student criteria to spot trends and behaviour that may cause concern to provide more targeted support and intervene early.
- Allows segmented communications to deliver personalised communications.
- Create custom surveys to understand your student’s needs
- Omni-channel capabilities (live chat, video and email)
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