mental well-being of students is a concern, despite the resurgence of the sector

IDP Connect’s Emerging Futures research, the latest edition of which was published last month Australian International Conference on Educationsuggested that Australia has experienced a resurgence as an international education destination and climbed the rankings to be the second favorite destination after Canada. But there are still concerns that remain.

While research found Australia is now a close second in student preference at 49% compared to 52% in Canada, student mental health and wellbeing remains a major concern. Some 77% of the 11,000 respondents said they were affected by feelings of depression, sadness and anxiety.

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

despite face “Growing competition” from competitors, it is “very heartening to see that Australia has moved up two places”, she says.

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

Australia has jumped from fourth to second place in the space of five months in the August edition of the IDP study, based on student surveys, as the second favorite destination for students international.

‘Improved perceptions’ reflect Australia being a welcoming country, its rights to part-time and post-study work, and changes to skilled migration policy.

“For international students ashore, a lot has changed, but a lot hasn’t changed either,” she says.

“For example the challenges they face – I was an international student myself and I can relate to the feeling of isolation, the financial pressure, the pressure from family to find a job and get the return on investment, etc. have always been there…

“But these pressures have been compounded at the top level by the instability and uncertainty brought by Covid. [At the same time] it highlights that there is an opportunity for us as a sector to further support international students in this regard,” she points out.

“One of the things our team has noticed in terms of supporting international students ashore is that students just want to be part of the community. They want to know where they’re from — that’s what we try to address in our ‘IDP Thrive’ program, so as soon as students arrive, we have a community and support network to help them settle in and feel part of a family and set them up for success,” Li said.

Onshore students face challenges related to feelings of isolation and financial pressures, research finds. Source: IDP Emerging Futures Research

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

“In fact, sometimes students really need a lifeline.”

Wellbeing and safety firm Sonder recently released its own Agents of Change guide focusing on best practice frameworks for reshaping institutional wellbeing.

When releasing the document, Sonder’s head of strategic markets, Rodney Davis, said “international rankings aren’t the only north star.”

“Senior leaders must also strive to engage and create meaningful value with all stakeholders in this journey: students, staff, employers, partners, donors, community organizations, research organizations, and our society at large.

“The new style of varsity cadre is not just a guard and an officer; they are an agent of change who collaboratively and proactively co-builds a healthier institution – 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 professional and multilingual 24/7 security, medical and mental health service.

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

One of the things that 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 in the Australian education experience of students”, notes Li.

She reiterated IDP’s expansion plans in Africa – it recently opened its first West African office in Nigeria – which she said will help diversify the company’s existing footprint.

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

“We have had a very difficult time over the last two or three years and our priority is to ensure that we provide support to international students who return and [helping make sure] that they are well settled in their new study destination. And, second, it’s about working with the industry to rebuild Australia’s reputation as a welcoming country.

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

Li says one area where the sector could give more impetus, now and in the future, is “more collaboration and exchange of best practices – university to university, university to government, university to agents…, and also collaboration with service providers such as hosts, etc.

Another area that needs to be highlighted is the rise in domestic violence rates among international students, something that has “seen an increase” during Covid, according to Li.

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

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

Increasing the number of student advisors and support staff from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds will go a long way to helping students feel more comfortable and understood when asking for help.

“NOTnot only do international students contribute culturally, but they boost jobs and help boost the economy”

“Also, the support provided to students does not necessarily need to be categorized as mental health support, it can be referred to as ‘confidence building’ or ‘friendship group’…”, she asks.

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

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

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

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