International student mental health and wellbeing: Complex vulnerabilities in a COVID-19 world

Presenters/Authors and Affiliations:
Hannah Soong, University of South Australia
Nicholas Procter, University of South Australia

International students play a crucial role in enriching Australia’s social and cultural fabric. However, they have quickly become one of the most vulnerable groups during the pandemic. On April 3, 2020, the Prime Minister made an argument for excluding people on temporary Australian visas from the $130 bn stimulus package, calling for international students who are unable to support themselves to return to their homeland. Such comments have not only put a sizable dent in Australia’s international education reputation. The protracted uncertainty surrounding not knowing if they can pursue or complete their studies or continue to pay their rent takes a toll on mental health. Taking this context in mind, we have examined various journalistic writings, media reporting and social media (eg. twitter) produced at critical discursive moments to foreground the operation of the discourse of vulnerabilities around the Asian international students during COVID-19. Many international students who are stranded here, have no or little support from family or close friends in Australia. About half of onshore international students, who are private renters, rely on work to pay rent. Furthermore, the spread of COVID has unfortunately accelerated racist sentiments against Asian Australians and international students from Asia. Seeing international students fall through the cracks in this health crisis, many universities have managed to provide hardship assistance funds, food relief, and assorted supports. Practical assistance, yet not nearly enough. Even though it will take a great measure of political will, the need to address the drivers of mental distress will go a long way to support international students. It’s imperative for them to feel validated and understood, especially by those in positions of power and authority. How Australian Government responds and supports international students during the pandemic and its aftermath will be a defining moment for Australian international education.

About Authors

Hannah Soong

Affiliation/s: University of South Australia

Hannah Soong, PhD is a Senior Lecturer and a Socio-cultural Researcher in the Education Futures
Unit, University of South Australia. Hannah’s research interests lie in the empirical studies and
theorisation of transnational mobility of families, international students and refugee families. One key
area in her research is the investigation around developing ethical engagement with global shifts and
relations in education and migration studies.

Nicholas Procter

Affiliation/s: University of South Australia

Nicholas Procter, PhD is Professor and Chair: Mental Health Nursing and leader of UniSA’s Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Research Group. He has worked closely with people of migrant, refugee and asylum seeker background for over 25 years, and has longstanding interest in the mental health of people with insecure visa status. Professor Procter is Australia’s national representative to the International Association for Suicide Prevention, and a member of the Expert Advisory Group to the Office of the Prime Minister’s National Suicide Prevention Adviser.

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