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Austrade regional market update on the impact of COVID-19 (as at 04 November 2020)

04 Nov 2020

Austrade provides regional updates on the progression and impact of COVID-19 around the world, to support the international education sector as the situation continues to evolve. These reports are compiled using the latest on-the-ground information and advice. The following updates include markets and regions for:

  • Europe
  • South Asia
  • Middle East and Africa
  • North Asia
  • North America



  • The Indonesian government, through the Ministry of Education and Culture (MOEC) has provided free ‘internet for study’ to support learning activities during COVID-19. In October, the government has provided access to approximately 35.7 million students, teachers and lecturers to free access for 2,690 platforms and websites, including video teleconferencing tools via their mobile phones.
  • Lembaga Pengelola Dana Pendidikan (LPDP), a major Indonesian scholarship program, in collaboration with Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA) has started to provide PhD scholarships for lecturers of Islamic Religious Colleges. In 2020, this scholarship is available for lecturers to pursue further study in 22 institutions in Indonesia, and from next year will support lecturers to study overseas.


  • Without financial assistance from the government to assist with impacts of COVID-19, over 50 private education institutions are expected to close by December 2020. The sector has been largely unaided over the last 60 years, despite contributing approximately AUD $13.74 billion (MYR 40bil) towards the national economy. The private education and training sector accounts for over half of Malaysian students in higher education to date.
  • Local international schools, including high fee-paying schools, are now providing discounts on fees and other financial incentives to help increase domestic enrolment. With limited international students and the impact to the economy due to COVID-19, many institutions in the schools sector have been affected.
  • The Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education has launched an initiative to support device and data plan assistance for higher education students, particularly those from the bottom 40 per cent (B40) or low-income earners. Some 8,965 B40 students in public universities will receive either free or loaned laptops, or cash/vouchers to purchase such devices. New students for the 2020/2021 academic year will also receive financial aid to purchase data plans and other necessities. These incentives support the move to online/blended learning in the medium-term.


  • The number of Thai students, as a proportion of all international students in Australia fell from 10th place in 2019 to 12thplace in the YTD August 2020. There were 14,336 Thai students in Australia between January and August 2020, a 10 per cent decline from the same period in 2019. Schools (-20 per cent) and ELICOS (-16 per cent) experienced the highest decline in student enrolments between January to August 2020. The higher education sector (-8 per cent) and vocational programs (-3 per cent) declined by only single digits as most Thai students were already studying in Australia when the borders closed.
  • From 2 November, Australian Visa Application Centres (AVAC) reopen for biometrics collection for all visa types. Partner, Family and Student visa applications are being prioritised at this time, as well as Visitor visa applications where travel exemptions have been granted. As soon as the announcement was made on AVAC’s website on 27 October, education agents rushed to book biometric appointments for students with applications pending due to COVID-19, including new applicants.
  • The Thai education agent’s association, TIECA, will host its first “TIECA Study Abroad Virtual Fair 2021” on 23 January. The virtual fair offers an opportunity to promote education institutions across all education sectors. The target audience are students, parents, academics and school counsellors from across Thailand. It will be an ideal opportunity for institutions to establish connections with TIECA agent members. For online registration contact manager@tieca.com


  • Australian Visa Application Centres in Vietnam have resumed limited operation from 28 October for biometrics collection, strictly by appointment.
  • Education agents resumed in-person exhibitions from mid-October. This is a positive indicator for the Australian international education sector to prepare for COVID-19 recovery when borders are open.
  • Four Vietnamese universities were listed in the 2021 Best Global Universities rankings by the US News & World Report. The Higher education institutions of Vietnam have enhanced their reputations through being consistently listed in world rankings, indicating a significant quality improvement in research, publications and international cooperation. This will have a positive impact on future partnerships between Australia and Vietnam’s educational institutions.
  • The Ministry of Education and Training of Vietnam has officially issued Circular 38 giving the regulatory authority for the delivery of joint qualifications on online platforms. This is an outcome of the project “Building Vietnam’s Quality Assurance Capabilities of Blended and Online Higher Education Courses and Qualifications”, funded and executed by Australian Government — Department of Education, Skills and Employment. The circular presents opportunities for Australian education providers to develop new TNE models with Vietnamese academic institutions and promote online education capabilities of Australia.


  • Europe is grappling with a significant second wave of COVID-19. Several countries are implementing various levels of lockdown in a bid to try and halt the rapid increase in infections, while trying to limit economic damage. Some are endeavouring to keep schools open, some are closing them, while others are allowing younger children to attend school in person, and returning to remote or blended learning from secondary school onwards.

Czech Republic

  • T-Mobile (one of three major telecom operators) has responded to the deepening COVID-19 pandemic and extension of Czech school closures by offering 10,000 free SIM cards three months to primary school pupils from disadvantaged families. T-Mobile will also help teachers to improve distance learning by making online webinars available for free.


  • The Ministry of Science and Higher Education developed a new program in the context of the presidential decree "On the national development goals of the Russian Federation for the period up to 2030". Russia aims to become one of the ten leading countries in the world for research and development, but to achieve this will require the development of a more efficient system of education. A ten-year program will be implemented over two stages: 2020-2025 and 2025-2030. Between 2021 and 2024, approximately 52 billion rubles (AU$931 million) will be allocated for the development of (up to 120) universities selected for the program.
  • Despite COVID-19, the Advanced Engineering Competencies - the Future of Mining Industry forum will take place online on 19 November 2020 in St Petersburg. The forum invites representatives of business and academic staff to discuss and share views on the competence-framework for raw materials’ engineers, and its influence on the future of the mineral resources sector. The main topic is to discuss prerequisites for the creation of an international unified system for the competence evaluation of professional engineers within the mineral resources sector.
  • According to Minister of Science and Higher Education, 152 higher education institutions from 1,278, moved to online education due to COVID-19. Many institutions offer blended forms of education.

South Asia


  • According to a report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and Amazon Web Services (AWS), emerging cloud based technologies and learning management systems will continue to support schools and institutions to resume normal operations post-COVID. This will be a key requirement to enable delivery of online education in India. Australian education providers interested in delivering learning outcomes and empowering teachers will find opportunities to do so (at scale).
  • Austrade India is actively exploring partnership opportunities for Australian edtech companies in after-school education. As schools prepare to reopen, a number of edtech platforms, such as Toppr, Udemy, Vedantu and WhiteHat Jr, have introduced skill-based ‘add-on’ courses to retain their relevance when face-to-face learning resumes. This presents an opportunity for Australian edtech providers to explore partnerships in India in this space.
  • The Western Australia School Curriculum and Standards Authority has launched the Western Australian Certificate of Education (WACE) in partnership with Sri Lanka’s International Institute of Health Sciences (IIHS). Under this arrangement, IIHS will introduce WACE in select private schools as an alternative to the UK Advance level curriculum, and provide an opportunity for the seamless transition of Sri Lankan secondary school students to Australian higher education institutions.

Middle East and Africa


  • The Commission for University Education (CUE) that regulates, accredits universities and programmes in Kenya undertook a study that indicated that 75 per cent of students preferred blended learning. This finding indicates the evolving demand of higher education delivery amid the pandemic with most private/public universities not being able to offer virtual learning. Guidelines on offering online/virtual learning by local universities in Kenya have been provided by the Commission for University Education (CUE). The Commission now requires local universities to seek accreditation for all their blended and online programmes before offering to students.
  • The phased re-opening of schools in Kenya has been put on hold, with candidates in both primary and secondary schools as well as Grade 4 being the only ones that resumed school in October 2020. COVID-19 numbers have been rising during October. The Ministry of Education is expected to give direction on whether schools will be closed again.

South Africa

  • President Ramaphosa has dismissed social media rumours that South Africa will return to Level 3 lockdown and has confirmed Government’s commitment to enhancing economic activity. The Minister of Finance’s medium term budget contained an allocation of funds towards a business rescue plan for South African Airways (approximately AUD1bn) taken from the salary budgets of a number of government departments, including Departments of Basic Education, Higher Education and Training and Health over the next three years.


  • Australian Visa Application Centres in Pakistan resumed limited operations from 2 November 2020 for biometrics collection. This is a positive development for educational agents and the institutional network, as there will be a number of education expos and student engagement over the coming weeks.


  • Turkish students from K-12 continue education with a mix of face-to-face and distance education. Since classroom education is not compulsory, students who wish to carry on with distance education are free to do so. The opening of the schools in Izmir were postponed by one week, due to the earthquake on 2 November.

North Asia


  • Chinese authorities have issued new measures to encourage the market’s primary and middle schools to improve their teaching. This includes efforts to grant schools greater autonomy in their operations. According to a joint circular issued by eight central government authorities, primary and middle schools will be granted more power to decide their own teaching plans, methods and training activities. The circular also empowers teachers to innovate and improve teaching methods. It emphasises that discipline in schools should be observed, while students' ‘freedom of participation, expression, independent thinking and practice’ should also be respected and protected. According to the circular, schools will also have more input into decisions regarding their personnel management and use of funds.
  • The Ministry of Education (MoE) and the National Cultural Heritage Administration has co-released a document to guide the increased incorporation of museum resources and content into the curriculum of China’s schools. As per the document, schools nationwide are urged to design new activities related to history, natural science, and technology, based on collections in local museums. Syllabuses of courses such as Chinese language, history, geography, fine arts, physics, chemistry, biology, amongst others, will include content available in museums. Extracurricular activities will also be encouraged to feature museums. Teachers will be provided with training programs regarding the incorporation of museum content and resources into their curriculum.
  • Chinese authorities have issued guidelines on strengthening and improving physical and arts education in schools, in President Xi Jinping’s ‘new era’. The guidelines stressed the importance of carrying out reforms in physical and arts education, adding more facilities and improving curriculum design and institutional support. The guidelines encouraged primary and secondary schools to provide students with one physical education class per day, and to develop more arts education classes in areas such as music, painting, calligraphy, dance, drama and opera. Meanwhile, university students must earn enough credits in physical education and arts education classes to graduate. Universities and research institutes are also encouraged to open physical education classes and arts education classes, which are not mandatory at present, for postgraduate students.


  • In collaboration with Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Austrade attended the first virtual education event and provided a market briefing for participating Australian education institution representatives. The event is organised by the Australian education agent for Mongolian students and has attracted 21 Australian education institutions including the Group of Eight universities.
  • All Mongolian universities, school and kindergartens started in September. The government of Mongolia has extended the closure of the market borders until the end of the year, but there are no locally transmitted cases of COVID-19.

North America

United States

  • As of 19 October, colleges have drawn $5.6 billion of the $6.2 billion available, of the CARES Act money for student grants and $3.6 billion for institutional costs.
  • More than 20 colleges and higher education groups are suing the federal government, to stop regulatory changes to the H1-B visas, in which aim to reduce eligibility requirements and increase how much employers must pay workers hired through the program.
Higher education
  • Strada Center for Education Consumer Rights’ COVID-19 Work and Education Survey on college students saw that 20 per cent of participants responded that COVID-19 has made their opportunities for career exploration much worse.
  • A survey of admission officers (National Association for College Admission Counselling and Salesforce) found that more than half of participants believed the pandemic has significantly affected their applicant pools moving forward.
  • The Global Alliance for International Student Advancement has been formed, to champion international students as they face issues related to ‘COVID-19, government hostility and widespread institutional neglect’.
  • A report by Bellwether Education Partners has reported that as many as 3 million of the country’s most marginalised students may not have returned to school, either online or in-person, since COVID-19 closures in March.
  • Education Dive’s K-12 COVID-19 Preparedness Survey with school and district administrators saw that
    • 62 per cent of participants were most prepared in the availability of laptops and tablets for all students
    • 49 per cent of participants were least prepared in the teachers’ experience for distance learning
    • 68 per cent of participants would be most prepared if masks were provided for staff and students
    • 31 per cent of participants would feel somewhat prepared to respond to future surges of the coronavirus (or a similar health crisis) in the future
  • The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) will be administered normally this school year, but could be implemented with smaller testing populations. The National Centre for Education Statistics said that it will work with education leaders on how to manage future tests.
  • A survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children in July saw that
    • 40 per cent of participants are certain that they will close permanently without additional public assistance
    • 18 per cent of child care centres and 9 per cent of family child care homes remain closed
    • Of those child care centres that are open, 86 per cent of respondents are serving fewer children now than they were prior to the pandemic. On average, enrolment is down by 67 per cent
    • Upwards of 70 per cent of child care centres are incurring substantial and additional costs for staff (72 per cent), cleaning supplies (92 per cent), and personal protective equipment (81 per cent)
    • 25 per cent of early childhood educators have reported that they have applied for or are currently receiving unemployment benefits, while a full 73 per cent of programs indicated that they have or will engage in layoffs, furloughs, and/or pay cuts. For minority-owned businesses, the situation is worse; only 12 per cent have not resorted to these measures in order to survive

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