Acceptable teaching standards will be first casualty of COVID-19, says ANU student union

Credit: James Giggacher

The ANU began the academic year without a large portion of its Chinese student body. Now, questions are being raised over the the extent to which its funding — which relies on international student fees — is sustainable moving forward.

With an estimated 190,000 Chinese students enrolled at Australian tertiary institutions, it has been estimated that Australia’s 10 leading universities — of which ANU is one — could cumulatively lose up to $1.2 billion from the Federal Government’s ongoing travel ban with mainland China.

Although student engagement currently remains high, with online courses and widespread digital support having been made available for all students both international and domestic, the revenue blow from residential colleges and student fees could have further impacts on university staff in coming months — particularly casual workers.

A spokesperson from ANU’s student union ANUSA — who wished to remain anonymous — believes that financial instability will ultimately trickle down to the university’s teaching staff, with adverse impacts on the quality of student outcomes.

‘Cuts to academic staff obviously means less tutors, larger class sizes, overworked lecturers, and a poorer overall academic experience for students.’

Australian National University Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt agrees that the role of the university in contemporary society will be ‘transformed’ by the Coronavirus outbreak, including the way that students from international backgrounds are accommodated.

Speaking to reporters from the student newspaper, he was quoted as saying ’How do we ensure that this system — which (has a) large dependency on international student income, which is going to be less in the future — what does that system need to look like?’

ANU Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt. (Credit: The Canberra Times)

Many Australian universities depend heavily on the fees of international students to fund their infrastructure and development. Australia’s status as a world-leading study destination means that higher education is the nation’s third-largest export, bringing in $38 billion in 2019. Student spending also significantly bolsters the hospitality and retail sectors.

Schmidt believes ‘hard decisions’ will have to be made by universities as they attempt to balance the reliance on international student fees with maintaining the quality of their teaching.

Still, he remains positive. ’We have had a big exposure, but not as big as we could have had.’

This news comes two years after the ANU made a deliberate effort to refinance and reduce reliance on international students.

With widespread student demonstrations on campus this week protesting the growing casualisation of ANU’s workforce, Schmidt and his staff find themselves under pressure. The ANU’s Division of Student Recruitment and Admissions is expected to make a separate statement later this week.

More to come.

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