International students in Victoria are still waiting to receive the support payments promised by the state government almost a month ago.
It comes as Victoria’s biggest university shelved work on several new educational facilities, as it grapples with thousands of international students deferring or cancelling their enrolment this semester.
In late April, the Andrews government announced an emergency one-off payment of up to $1100 for vulnerable international students without work due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Education Minister James Merlino confirmed on Monday applications hadn’t formally opened.
“This is an urgent matter. We’re finalising those processes; we’ll have those applications for funding out very shortly and understand the need,” he said.
“We’ve got to get this right, we don’t want to make mistakes with this, so we’re just finalising the processes for international students and that will happen very, very shortly.”
In a bid to help, the City of Melbourne has announced it will be handing out coupons worth up to $200 for international students to spend at the Queen Victoria Market.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the city had a responsibility to care for students isolated and far from home during the current crisis.
“The COVID-19 crisis has had a devastating impact on this group and on Victoria’s international student economy, which is worth $9.1 billion a year,” she said in a statement.
She added the vouchers, which can be applied for online, would also provide a boost to struggling traders at the market.
About half of Australia’s 500,000 international students live in Victoria and many have lost their jobs during the pandemic.
Some want to go home, but can’t due to the lack of flights, funds or border restrictions while others have built lives and families in Australia.
National Union of Students president Molly Willmott told Victoria’s public affairs and estimates committee the state government’s support package was welcome but doesn’t go far enough.
“We’re hearing stories of extreme depression and mental strain because of a lack of financial support,” she told the inquiry investigating Victoria’s response to COVID-19 on Monday.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, international education contributed $37.6 billion to the economy in the 2018/19 financial year and employs 240,000 people.
Monash University, the state’s biggest by student numbers, contributed $2.3 billion to that export sector in 2017, Vice-Chancellor Margaret Gardner told the inquiry.
But she said about 6000 international students had cancelled or deferred their enrolment in semester one and 6000 were learning remotely from their home countries.
The hit to Monash’s revenue means it has had to shelve projects, including a $100 million medical education centre, a $100 million biomedical teaching facility, and a $170 million artificial intelligence and data building.
“In this downturn, we’re making hard decisions that reduce our contribution and may seriously erode the future quality of what we do,” Ms Gardner said.
Originally published as Overseas students waiting on Vic support