Education, Exclusion and Belonging: The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international students in Melbourne and Hobart, Australia

Presenters: Dr Enqi Weng and Dr Anna Halafoff

Authors and Affiliations:
Dr Enqi Weng, Deakin University
Dr Anna Halafoff, Deakin University


Melbourne, one of the most culturally and religiously diverse cities in Australia, has welcomed international students in significant numbers since the 1960s and in rising numbers in recent years. Hobart, an increasingly diverse city has also seen a growth in the numbers of international students over the past decade. Having international students’ studying in Australia’s universities has been of great social and economic benefit, for the students, their countries of origin, and Victoria and Tasmania. While it has been a largely successful endeavour, issues have arisen in the recent past, particularly with disturbing incidents of abuse toward Chinese and Indian students in Melbourne, concerns regarding employment and affordable housing, and impediments to belonging. Community organisations and state actors have worked hard to mitigate harm and to support international students studying in Melbourne and Hobart, yet these issues persist and have been exacerbated by the current COVID-19 pandemic, as a result of the lockdown periods and decreased global mobility. This paper investigates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international students in Melbourne and Hobart, drawing on interviews with international students and community leaders from Chinese, Indian and Russian communities, conducted as part of an Australian Research Council funded project on migration and religious diversity. It examines persistent issues of racism and discrimination in Australia, and community and state strategies to address social inequalities, in the face of this pandemic and escalating geopolitical tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.

About Authors

Dr Enqi Weng

Affiliation/s: Deakin University
Email: enqi.weng@deakin.edu.au

Dr. Enqi Weng is currently a Research Fellow on the ARC Discovery Project ‘Religious diversity in Australia: Strategies to maintain social cohesion’. She also teaches in religious and media studies units at Deakin University. Her research interests are religion and media, religious literacy, religious and cultural diversity, religion and migration and decolonial approaches to the study of religion. Her monograph Media Perceptions of Religious Changes in Australia: Of Dominance and Diversity was recently published (Routledge, 2020). She has also published in journals in the field of sociology of religion and media studies.

Dr Anna Halafoff

Affiliation/s: Deakin University
Email: anna.halafoff@deakin.edu.au

Dr. Anna Halafoff is an Associate Professor in Sociology, and a member of the Alfred Deakin Institute at Deakin University. She is also a Research Associate of the UNESCO Chair in Interreligious and Intercultural Relations – Asia Pacific, at Monash University. Anna’s current research interests are religious diversity, religion and young people, interreligious relations, religion and migration, preventing violent extremism, education about religions and worldviews, and Buddhism in Australia. Her recent books include The Multifaith Movement: Global Risks and Cosmopolitan Solutions (Springer 2013), and Education about Religions and Worldviews: Promoting Intercultural and Interreligious Understanding in Secular Societies (Routledge, 2016 edited with Elisabeth Arweck and Daniel Boisvert).

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