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

19 May 2020

Austrade will provide weekly 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:

  • Association of South East Asian Nations
  • North America
  • Europe
  • Middle East and Africa
  • North Asia
  • Latin America
  • South Asia

Association of South East Asian Nations


  • While most Indonesian Ministry’s budgets have been cut, the Ministry of Education and Culture (MOEC) budget has been boosted to a total of A$7.07 Billion — a 96.3 per cent increase YoY.
  • Universitas Indonesia (UI) recently completed a student survey, finding more than 51 per cent of respondents would not be able to afford additional internet costs associated with accessing the university’s elearning systems. To solve this issue, the acting Director General of Higher Education has advised all education providers to assist students by offering subsidies to make online learning more affordable for students.
  • Based on Ministerial Decree (Permen) Dikti No. 39/2017, students from state universities who are financially affected, can propose reductions in tuition fees with the approval of the individual college directors. 


  • With the easing of restrictions (under Conditional Movement Control Order effective since 4 May), local universities, particularly private institutions, have started allowing administrative staff to return to campus. Teaching staff remain working from home. 
  • There have been active discussions by UMAP (University Mobility in Asia and the Pacific) members, in particular with Malaysia, on the changing face of mobility. Keen to continue international efforts, previously driven by the extensive connections offered by UMAP, Malaysian public universities are actively seeking online collaborative learning partners to create innovative cross-border engagements. 
  • UMAP Research Net (URN) 2020 has also commenced, with the aim of promoting academic mobility and collaboration, and to promote effective interaction and exchange among scholars, researchers, and educators across cultures. A research funding of up to USD $5,000 will be provided to selected proposals submitted through UMAP. The proposal submission deadline is 4 June, 2020.


  • Myanmar has extended the COVID-19 prevention measures until 31 May 2020. This includes restrictions on movements and gatherings of more than five people, as well as semi-lockdowns in seriously affected townships with curfews from 12pm – 4am.
  • Ministry of Education released COVID-19 National Response and Recovery Plan for the Education Sector on 12 May 2020. The Ministry will also introduce online delivery of teacher training across the country.
  • Most agents will resume partial services on 18 May 2020 as per the government’s guidelines of social distancing. The recruitment of students has declined more than 80 per cent according to in-country agents. 
  • Agents are facilitating more students with their online commencements. However, compared to the normal student commencement rate, numbers of students who are willing to take online programs is far fewer.
  • Main challenges that agents and partner institutions are facing include:
    • The learning phase of students and facilitators/agents in using universities/institution LMS’s;
    • Human resources to facilitate online courses in market;
    • Basic infrastructure, such as stable internet connectivity, electricity and the enabling environment; and
    • The willingness of the students to take up online courses in the first place, and in continuity with their study interests.


  • The Philippines has placed Metro Manila, Laguna and Cebu City under Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine from 16 May – 31 May (instead of switching to the General Community Quarantine due to the on-going risk of cases in these areas).
  • Under Modified ECQ:
    • People are still only allowed to leave their homes to obtain essential goods;
    • Manufacturing and processing plants can re-open at 50 per cent capacity;
    • Government offices will resume work at 50 per cent capacity;
    • Transportation is still limited to essential workers; and
    • School classes remain closed, relying on distance learning.
  • Other low-risk provinces are being placed under General Community Quarantine with greater ease of movement and the start of reopening of sectors. Another review of quarantine measures will be conducted before 31 May 2020.
  • The Philippines Department of Health is aiming to reach a daily testing capacity of 30,000 by 30 May. The Asian Development Bank is set to grant a further US$125 million to assist the Philippine government to set up two additional COVID-19 laboratories. Part of the grant will be used to provide equipment and medical supplies to select public healthcare facilities; training of lab technicians to use the equipment; and construction and renovation of isolation wards in some public hospitals.
  • The Philippines is restricting the number of inbound passengers coming into Manila. Starting 11 May until 10 June, inbound commercial flights into Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) will be only allowed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Flights must be approved by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines 48 hours before the scheduled departure from the airport of origin. Limited to 400 passengers per day – Filipino citizens and their immediate family members, foreigners with Philippine permanent residency visas and foreign diplomats only.
  • The Coordinating Council for Private Educational Associations of the Philippines (COCOPEA) conducted a survey of its members (2,500 private schools nationwide) and found that around two million students of the K-12 curriculum may transfer from private to public schools as families struggle with the economic impact of the pandemic. Out of the 27 million basic education learners in the Philippines, around 4 million are enrolled in private schools. COCOPEA anticipates that there will be as high as a 50 per cent decline in enrolment in the coming school year as their survey shows a steady decline in enrolment even before the pandemic started. The Department of Education will conduct a separate enrolment validation to anticipate the resources public schools may need for the influx.


  • The Ministry of Education has brought forward Singapore’s mid-year school holidays to 5 May 2020 as part of the COVID-19 measures. This applies to all government kindergartens, primary, secondary and junior colleges. The school term will resume on 2 June 2020 and there will be flexibility to deliver part of the curriculum online as the Singapore economy opens gradually and in stages. With the change, the second semester mid-term break will be scheduled for 20 July to 26 July and Term 3 will officially end on 6 September 2020.
  • Australian education institutions that are keen to engage with the schools here are encouraged to visit the Ministry of Education’s website regularly to check the latest academic calendar so as to avoid organising activities during the revised school holiday periods.
  • Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF) shared that Singapore’s decade-long commitment and heavy investments into R&D have paid off during the fight against COVID-19, as multitudes of technologies were able to be rolled out in a short period of time to combat the spread of the virus. These solutions include disinfection robots that emit ultraviolet rays to eliminate viruses that are lingering on surfaces; and swabbing booths designed to provide extra protection for healthcare workers doing large-scale COVID-19 tests. Contributing to more than 4 per cent of the country’s GDP and employing over 24,000 professionals, there are opportunities for Australian researchers to engage with Singapore’s biomedical manufacturing companies as investments into this industry are expected to only grow further post-COVID-19.


  • Thailand’s Ministry of Education has launched the Distance Learning Television (DLTV) channel for nationwide broadcasting from 18 May to 30 June for students, before returning to school on 1 July.
  • Thai education agents have expressed positive feedback about the Australian Government’s three-step plan for reopening Australia after COVID-19. Agents remain optimistic that Australia’s education sector will return to growth and remain a competitive study abroad destination when the borders re-open once again. 
  • ELICOS is expected to be the fastest sector to recover as it is always high demand among Thai students and the course intake timings, vary throughout the year. Meanwhile the higher education and school sectors will remain a challenge, due mainly to the timing as the next intake will be in July 2020 and international arrivals might not be permitted.  
  • In May, the Thai education agents association, TIECA conducted a survey of Thai students studying abroad who would like to return home as soon as possible. There were a total of 254 respondents. The five top reasons for students wanting to return home were financial hardship, losing their jobs, inability to afford accommodation rent, uncomfortable with online learning and personal illness.
  • Thai Airways will be operating two special commercial flights; Sydney-Bangkok on 21 May and Melbourne-Bangkok on 27 May to accommodate Thai citizens wanting to return home. Nearly 1,000 Thai citizens expressed their interested to take one of these flights home, half were student visa holders.


  • A number of European countries are now making plans for gradually easing border restrictions for intra-European travel, some of which will not require mandatory quarantine periods.


  • Russian agents see the waiving of requirements for GMAT and GRE offered by US graduate schools for the 2020 autumn intake as a competitive advantage, as well as the cancellation of SAT/ACT or SAT subject tests for Bachelor and some Masters programs. In view of the present situation with COVID-19, the fact that Australia offers online visa applications and a semester one start in February remain attractive features.
  • The Moscow City Tourism Committee has launched a new project to help businesses survive in the challenging circumstances of COVID-19. Supported by Russian and international universities, the committee offers free online education to Moscow-based professionals in the tourism industry, including the issuing of digital certificates in sales, marketing, management, use of digital technologies, change management, design thinking, digital transformation and others.
  • The Ministry of Education, supported by the Ministry of Communications and Mass Media, is working on a new project called Digital educational environment. As part of the initiative, both ministries plan to use the social network VKontakte (the Russian equivalent of Facebook), which is popular among schoolchildren and students. A dedicated VK-Education section is to be developed containing verified textbooks, high-quality lectures and video lessons. The project is also focused on the support of online education at schools and may become a local equivalent to ZOOM.

United Kingdom

  • According to an analysis from the Centre for Research in Digital Education, UK universities will need to spend about £10 million per institution in order to create 5 or 6 online degrees across several faculties. The analysis suggests that this would cost the sector £1 billion.
  • According to the analysis, only 20 of the UK’s 136 universities are fully prepared to shift to online learning, with some institutions indicating this it has been difficult to find private sector partners to assist them as ’the leading online learning companies’ have opted to work with the more ‘prestigious universities’.


  • To date 1,500 international students in Sweden have signed a petition for course fees for international students to be reduced. They argue that since moving to online learning due to COVID-19 restrictions, the quality of the education has declined. A number have also highlighted that most part-time work for students has disappeared which also affects students economically.
  • Around 10,000 students from outside the EU study in Sweden. They pay on average A$10,000 per term (Swedish and EU students study for free). A spokesperson for the Swedish Universities is quoted, saying there was ‘no current plan to reduce international fees’, and ‘the costs in delivering distance education are at least as high as delivering the course on campus’.
  • International students’ demands may have some basis in Swedish law. In 2018 an international student won the right for two-thirds of her course fees to be repaid due to the poor standard of her university course. The Swedish High Court decision sets a precedent for future cases where the quality of courses is considered insufficient.

Czech Republic

  • Universities have now reopened for all students, and the final year cohorts in elementary and secondary schools have also returned to school in order to prepare for exams.
  • On 14 May the Education Minister advised that children aged 12-15 could resume in-class learning on voluntary basis at the beginning of June. Children aged 6-11 can resume in-class learning on voluntary basis from 25 May.
  • Thousands of Czech medical students pitched in to help during the coronavirus crisis in the Czech Republic. Some were called on by the government to perform mandatory service in state run hospitals, old age homes and emergency services, but the vast majority volunteered of their own accord, and now say the experience gained was invaluable.
  • The Ministry of Education, together with non-profit organization ńĆesko.Digital, has created an online platform to aid distance learning (providing webinars and facilitating the use of online platforms for schools), as well as gathering over 1,000 computers for families in need to enable online learning for their children.


  • If coronavirus infection numbers remain as low as they have been the past week (1,480 positive cases and 27 coronavirus casualties as of 14 May), the youngest pupils (including kindergarten) could return to schools in early June, on a voluntary basis.
  • Slovak online learning provider Learn2Code has registered growing interest in online learning across all groups of learners (adult, youth and children).


  • The government has announced that Italian borders will be re-opened from 3 June, at which point it will be possible for Italians to travel within the EU, Schengen zone and UK only. Visitors from these countries are also permitted to travel to Italy and will not be subject to quarantine periods.
  • As part of the most recent package launched to support the economy, the government has allocated Euro 1.4 billion to universities and research, including the hiring of 4,000 new researchers.
  • In addition, 4,200 scholarships will be funded for postgraduate places at Italian university schools of Medicine.
  • A further Euro 331 million will be dedicated to supporting the re-opening of schools for the new academic year in September, in order to implement the necessary measures to ensure the safety and teaching of students throughout the 2020-21 academic year.

Middle East and Africa


  • Partnerships between governments, telecommunication organisations and learning platforms are seeking to improve the reach and quality of education in Nigeria during COVID times. Leading telecom companies have made access to a limited number of platforms completely free (funded by their own Corporate Social Responsibility budgets). For example, Airtel gives access to, which is the federal Government’s approved portal and online resource for learning during the COVID-19 pandemic period. 9Mobile provides free access to educational websites including Schoolgate, Mobile Classroom, National Open University, Khan Academy and Seesaw (in partnership with Federal Ministry of Education).


  • Higher senior certificate exams have been postponed to March 2021. The next intake for Australia would therefore be second/third semester with expectations that it will be a large intake.

South Africa

  • The Minister of Education plans to reopen schools, initially for June. However this may be unlikely, as sanitizing is still under discussion with unions and associations.
  • Universities are still officially closed, with teaching continuing online.


  • Schools and universities continue to be closed and to provide online sessions to the students. End of academic year exams will be held either online or in-person with observation of all necessary health protocols.
  • The National Organisation of Educational Testing announced that IELTS Institute, will conduct IELTS International English Language Test on 21 May. All special health protocols will be observed and all candidates must be health checked (for fever) on the exam day.


  • School closures have been extended until 31 July.
  • Online classes, lectures continue. Government schools will not hold exams, all grade 10 and 12 students will be promoted based on their 9th and 11th year grades, however there may be some exceptions. This aligns with announcements already made for Cambridge, O & A levels. Agents are now waiting to see how the exemption will work for international students.

North Asia

Hong Kong

  • The Hong Kong Education Bureau has announced it will reopen school campuses in phases, starting from 27 May, upon completion of the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exams. Senior secondary students will be the first batch to resume face-to-face classes on a half-day basis, followed by lower secondary and senior primary school on 8 June. Junior primary and kindergarten pupils resume classes on 15 June.
  • Most universities in Hong Kong will continue to conduct online lessons until the current semester ends in May. Alternative forms of assessments such as online exams will be carried out at the end of the semester.


  • With the recent spike linked to entertainment facilities in Seoul, face-to-face classes for year 12 have been postponed a week until 20 May.
  • Key agents commence recruitment activities such as semi online exhibitions and online seminars using social media channels.
  • Austrade Seoul is developing a YouTube Study Australia promotion, aiming to start in early June.


  • Permission has been given by the State Emergency Commission for students from Year 12 to commence classes to prepare for the final graduation examination. Student class numbers will be limited
  • University students in Mongolia have been instructed by the Ministry to take their final exams online.

Latin America


  • Social, preventive and compulsory distancing remains in place until 24 May.
  • The Federal Council of Education has announced that there will be no numerical assessment this year.
  • Federal Ministry of Labor issued a Resolution to allow parents or any adult in charge of a child affected by the suspension of classes to justify their non-attendance to their current jobs.
  • Federal Ministry of Education signed a letter of intent with the Association of Health Workers Argentina Bs.As. (ATSABsAs) to train professional and non-professional health workers.


  • On Friday 15 May, official figures from the Ministry of Health report 218,223 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Brazil, with 14,817 deaths.
  • Quarantine measures remains in most states until at least 31 May. The health Minister resigned, after less than a month in the office, due to divergences with the President.
  • The demand for online courses during quarantine has increased on a wide range of topics. Udemy, the world's largest platform for virtual courses, free or at very affordable prices, registered a 425 per cent increase in global enrolments during this period. In Brazil, this growth was 95 per cent with a greater demand for courses that teach how to do marketing through Instagram (103 per cent), video editing (102 per cent) and drawing (84 per cent).


  • Government confirmed that shutdown will finish on Sunday 24 May, 2020.
  • The Ministry of Health has declared 84,495 COVID patients to date. 851 people are in intensive care with 2,392 deaths recorded.
  • During last week, the learning activities includimg online courses continued to register high levels of searches on internet, even surpassing some entertainment activities.
  • In addition to the above, around 9 million people participated in at least one class of the "learn at home" educational initiative, a government program to provide classes to primary and secondary school children.


  • On 7 May, Colombia surpassed 15,000 infections of COVID-19. The death toll from COVID-19 is 574, twelve were recorded in the last hours.
  • Higher Education Institutions resume classes from 1 June with the least possible number of students, for what is strictly necessary and with the least impact on mobility. The Ministry of National Education urgently asked all HEIs to complete a survey to find out which workshops, laboratories and subjects are essential.
  • President Duque indicated that an eventual return of the country's kindergartens and schools will be assessed based on the advice of epidemiologists reviewing the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
  • The President Iván Duque has said that this week he will consider when national flights will reopen in Colombia. It is unlikely that international flights will resume in the short term.

North America

  • The US and Canada now have more than 1,427,000 and 74,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases respectively.

United States

  • Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx held a call with leaders of 14 colleges and universities to discuss best practices to get students back to school in the fall.
  • The Department of Education will award $3 million dollars in grant money for a program that gives districts flexibility to combine federal, state and local funding streams to educate disadvantaged students. This is the first time the Department of Education has offered funding to support a student-centered funding pilot.
  • A survey by the Institute of International Education showed around 90 per cent of US colleges and universities, are preparing for a drop in international enrolment for this upcoming academic year, and nearly a third of those institutions expect the decline to be substantial.
  • A poll by College Reaction, said nearly two thirds of college students say they would attend in-person classes if colleges reopen in the fall, even if there is no coronavirus vaccine or cure. 31 per cent of students would only attend virtually and 4 per cent said that they would withdraw from school.

South Asia


  • India has extended lockdown to 31 May, with most of the restrictions in place as cases exceeded 90,000. Schools, malls and other public places will remain mostly closed, though rules will be relaxed in areas with low numbers of cases.
  • PM Modi announced Rs 20 lakh crore economic stimulus package for the country fighting the coronavirus pandemic, saying it will give a new direction to the self-reliant India campaign providing support to health, education and business sectors. Some funds have been allocated to increase the accessibility of online education in the country with 12 new channels to be added to Swayam Prabha DTH channels to support and reach those who do not have access to the internet. Technology driven education to be the focus as PM eVIDYa programme for multi-mode access to digital/online education will be launched immediately. Top 100 universities will also be permitted to automatically start online courses by 30 May 2020.
  • The University Grants Commission (UGC) has constituted a task force and instituted a dedicated helpline to address grievances of students, teachers, and institutions that have arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students can also lodge their grievances on the existing Online Students Grievance Redressal Portal. UGC has already asked colleges to create a COVID-19 cell in each institute to handle coronavirus-related issues.
  • Reducing numbers of students and split cohorts are some of the ideas universities and colleges in India are working out to conduct the final exam scheduled from 1 July, 2020. The prestigious medical and engineering entrances NEET and JEE-Mains will also be held on 26 July and 18-23 July, respectively.
  • Tamil Nadu government is showcasing its intent to progress towards digital platforms for continued learning. To ensure students of state board schools in Tamil Nadu have access to learning material during the ongoing lockdown, the School Education Department now has an elearning portal which has aggregated content for students of classes 1 to 12. This portal was initially started for the teachers across the state and now has been made accessible to students as well, with modifications made as per the students learning requirements.


  • Evening courses are booming at public universities in Bangladesh.
  • There could be opportunities for Australian institutions to provide courses in partnership with Bangladesh public universities to offer industry specific training and courses to meet the industry needs and to upskill the capacity for meeting EMDG goals set by the Bangladesh Government.

Sri Lanka

  • On 11 May, the President of Sri Lankan Gotabhaya Rajapakse announced the government was ‘reopening the economy,’ including in the Colombo and Gampaha districts, which recorded the highest number of cases so far.
  • State institutions and businesses are allowed to reopen with up to one-third of the workforce called back to work.
  • About two weeks ago, the government had already allowed major exporting businesses to resume production.

If you have questions, please contact the offices in market who can direct and assist in your enquiry. You can view Austrade office locations on our website.