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student mental wellbeing a concern, despite sector resurgence

IDP Connects Emerging Futures research, the latest edition of which was released last month Australian International Education Conferencesuggested that Australia has seen a resurgence as an international education destination and has risen to become the second most preferred destination after Canada. But there are still concerns that remain.

While the survey found that Australia is now a close second in student preference at 49% compared to Canada’s 52%, student mental health and well-being remains a major concern. About 77% of the 11,000 respondents said they had experienced feelings of depression, sadness and anxiety.

“There is still a lot of uncertainty after Covid, it has turned the world upside down,” Jane Li, IDP’s area director for Australasia, tells The PIE.

Despite confrontation “Increasing competition” from competitors, it’s “very gratifying to see Australia move up two places,” she says.

“I can understand the feeling of isolation, the financial pressure, the pressure of family”

Australia has moved from fourth to second, within a span of five months in the August edition of IDP’s study, based on student surveys, in terms of being the second most preferred destination for international students.

“Enhanced perceptions” reflect Australia being a welcoming country, its rights to part-time and post-graduate employment, and changes in skilled migration policies.

“A lot has changed for international onshore students, but not much,” she says.

“For example, the challenges they face — I was an international student myself and I can feel the sense of isolation, the financial pressure, the pressure from family in terms of getting a job and getting the return on investment, etc. been there…

“But this pressure has been taken to the next level by the instability and uncertainty that Covid brings. [At the same time] this emphasizes that there is an opportunity for us as a sector to provide more support to international students in this”, she underlines.

“One of the things our team has noticed in terms of onshore international student support is that students just want to be part of the community. They want to know where they belong – this is what we’re trying to address in our ‘IDP Thrive’ program. So once students arrive, we have a community and support network to help them settle in and be part of a family and set them up for success,” Li highlights.

Research indicates that onshore students face challenges around feelings of isolation and financial pressure. Source: IDP Emerging Futures Research

A key finding that is “deeply concerning” is the date on student mental health and well-being. Universities are doing a lot right now, but there is “huge room for improvement, in terms of really understanding individual students and tailoring the support provided to them,” she says.

“Sometimes students really need a lifeline.”

Welfare and safety company Without recently released his own ‘Agents of Change’ guide focused on best practice frameworks to reshape institutional well-being.

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When the paper was released, Rodney Davis, Sonder’s head of Strategic Markets, stated that “international ranking is not the only north star”.

“Senior leaders should also focus on engaging and creating meaningful value with all stakeholders on that journey: students, staff, employers, partners, donors, community organizations, research agencies and our wider society.

“New style university administrator is not just a janitor and officer; they are an agent of change who together and proactively co-designs a healthier mindset – and a better world.”

The company has partnered with the University of Sydney to provide the institution’s international students with free access to its 24/7, professional and multilingual service for safety, medical and mental health support.

The app connects students with registered nurses, psychologists, doctors and wellness experts “at the touch of a button”.

One of the things IDP brings to the table is the fact that it operates in over 30 countries around the world and in Australia it serves a student base from over 190 countries – this helps the organization to be “uniquely positioned to make a difference to the Australian educational experience of students,” notes Li.

She echoed IDP’s plans expand in Africa – it recently opened its first West African office in Nigeria – which she believes will happen help diversify the company’s existing footprint.

Li is “very excited about the [sector’s] rebound” and the fact that international students have started to “come back ashore”.

“We have had a very challenging time over the past two to three years and our priority is to ensure that we support the returning international students and [helping make sure] that they are well settled in their new study destination. And second, it is to work with the industry to restore Australia’s reputation as a welcoming country.”

The Thrive program — with “Thrive Ambassadors” and the “peer-to-peer support networks” — is essential for students to feel “supported,” “connected,” and “rewarded,” she adds.

Li says one area where the industry could provide more momentum now and in the future is “increased collaboration and exchange of best practices – university to university, university to government, university to agents…, and also collaboration with the service providers such as accommodation providers, etc.”

Another area to highlight is the rise in domestic violence among international students, something that Li said has seen “an increase” during Covid.

“Covid has exacerbated the need for mental health care for international students.

“It [the mental health crisis] has become worse than before Covid and we need to take it more seriously,” says Li.

Using more counselors and student support staff from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds can help students feel more comfortable and better understood when seeking support.

“NInternational students not only contribute culturally, but they boost jobs and boost the economy.”

“In addition, the support provided to students does not necessarily have to be classified as mental health support. It can be referred to as a ‘trust building’ type or a ‘friendship group’ type…,” she argues.

One of the things that can help increase international students’ sense of belonging is greater social acceptance and hence the need for greater social permit.

“It is important that community awareness is built around the significant contribution of international students – the economic and social contribution… international students not only contribute culturally, but they also boost jobs and help boost the economy. And they are the brand ambassadors of our country.

“I truly believe there is so much more we can do together as an industry,” concludes Li.



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