UK Higher Education

Supporting International Students in the Era of COVID-19: Lessons From Overseas #InThisTogether

The coronavirus epidemic has had an unprecedented impact on people, industries and countries all over the world. The rapidly evolving and often unpredictable situation has required governments, organisations and individuals alike to take extraordinary steps in order to preserve the health, safety and prosperity of our global societies.

International students, both those currently in education and prospective students in the early stages of their journey, have been particularly impacted by the epidemic, in many cases both their immediate safety and their future ambitions thrown into question.

At IDP Connect, the safety of students and our staff all over the world is our number one priority. Second to that is our commitment to support students, no matter the circumstances, in facilitating their Higher Education goals. The coronavirus outbreak has introduced new challenges, but already our teams across the world have demonstrated their dedication and ability to support students through this crisis, while protecting the health and safety of all involved.

One of the first international student cohorts to feel the effects of COVID-19 were those students from China bound for studies in Australia, and those returning to Australia from Lunar New Year celebrations back home.

Facing travel restrictions, changes to their studies and delays to their start dates, these students and their parents have been dealing with practical, financial and emotional challenges since late January.

The response from our onshore Australia and China teams has set the tone in terms of how IDP continues to rally around students and support them throughout this difficult time. At IDP, our first priority is the safety, health and well-being of students whether they are on campus, in their home country, or somewhere in-between.

While the situation may still feel uncertain, there is a lot to take heart from in terms of how countries, governments and institutions are supporting not just students but all those in our incredible community.

The challenges which rapidly emerged for Australia’s education sector following the devastating bushfires and then COVID-19 were, and continue to be, met with extraordinary courage, innovation and co-operation.

IDP counselling teams are working round the clock to support students and their parents impacted by COVID-19

IDP’s support channels

Using leading digital solutions, IDP’s Australia and China teams have established the following best practice in supporting Chinese students:

1. Weekly Student Webinars Co-hosted by IDP China and the IDP Australia Onshore Team​
Hundreds of Chinese students have been joining our weekly webinars since February, in which key government and institutional policies, important dates and advice is shared. The live webinars are interactive, giving students a chance to express their concerns which are then fed back to institutions.

2. Daily Updates of Australian Government Policy​
IDP China is supported by IDP’s global teams to ensure they have the latest information on Australia’s government policies from official sites which are translated and shared with students on a daily basis.

3. Daily Updates of Australian Universities’ Policies​
The IDP team consolidate information including direct communication from Australian universities, student feedback, and external sources to deliver daily updates on universities’ policies for students and links for further information.

4. Daily Social Media Posts for Counsellors and Students
Consolidated updates on university and government policy, as well as IDP activities, are all posted on social media, including IDP WeChat and Weibo, to ensure instant and easy access for students and counsellors both in-country and abroad.

5. Supporting students on their travels
Knowing students were concerned about travel, IDP established 24 hour emergency contact lines and WeChat for students travelling to Australia so they had a trusted contact point at every stage of their flight and arrival.

6. Virtual Student Fairs
Looking to the future, and ensuring that prospective students are still able to explore all of their Higher Education options, IDP is establishing virtual student fairs in China. Based on a successful rollout in India, these virtual fairs provide institutions with a platform through which to connect with prospective students from China, whilst allowing prospective Chinese students to get a real insight into what Australian institutions have to offer, without risk to their health.

Through our above efforts, we’ve reiterated the importance of social media in communicating quickly with both students and our network of counsellors. Meanwhile, the weekly webinar has proven an excellent channel to support students and highlighted the value of collaboration with the China team co-hosting the webinar with our onshore Australia team. It has also taught us the importance of having the student voice heard, literally.

According to Venice Yun, Destination Director for Australia, New Zealand, UK and Ireland: “The weekly update webinar has been an important way to communicate with students. It’s a space where students can ask questions and learn from the experiences of others. We’ve been holding the webinars consistently for six weeks now and it has a considerable student following.

“We [IDP] have already received verbal recognition and praise from parents for what we have done to help students, in particular services such as the webinar and on-going policy updates are considered very valuable.

“Students have also responded particularly positively to those universities that have set flexible policies and communicated them via clear instructions. Sometimes, this policy flexibility regarding things like start dates is seen as more meaningful than pure financial aid.”

#InThisTogether

Alongside information and practical support, we have also found that one of the most powerful tools at our disposal is the message of support, empathy and optimism that has featured prominently in students and staff both in-destination and overseas.

This message was epitomized by the #InThisTogether campaign launched by Austrade to show support to the Chinese student community. This video created in collaboration with IDP Australia and the University of Sydney’s Chinese Student Association, shown below, was shared across our channels and in Austrade’s ‘Good News Bank’. It received fantastic feedback from students, encouraged by the thought that they are not alone or forgotten.

 

In the face of an ongoing and rapidly evolving global issue, IDP teams across the world will continue to review and innovate in how we support students and clients. We greatly appreciate all our institutions and friends are doing to support their students and teams in this difficult time. To find out more about any of the above, reach out to comms@idp-connect.com.

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