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Austrade regional market update on the impact of COVID-19 (as at 21 July 2020)

22 Jul 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:

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

South East Asia


  • A cohort of 50,288 Indonesian health students will be the first to undergo competency tests online and without practical lessons with patients. Previously the schedule for competency tests for health students were postponed, but due to the need for health workers during COVID-19, competency tests were still carried out online, with strict health protocols. This online competency test will be taken by students in midwifery, dental therapy, nursing, nutrition, physiotherapy, radiology, medical records, among others.
  • The Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture (MOEC) will facilitate some foreign students who receive Darmasiswa scholarships (Indonesian government scholarships for foreign students) to return to their countries, especially students who have completed their studies in Indonesia and are facing difficulties returning home. Some options include encouraging Embassies or representative offices of foreign students to assist in the repatriation process both in terms of finance and accommodation, in coordination with MOEC.
  • For foreign students whose permits expire soon, MOEC will coordinate with relevant ministries and agencies to obtain an extended permit, and the option of supporting living expenses during the process of returning to their respective countries. MOEC will also form a task force with various scholar host institutions including Universitas Indonesia, Unika Atmajaya Jakarta and Sahid polytechnics. Currently there are 351 students receiving the Darmasiswa scholarship hailing from 64 countries that are experiencing difficulties in the process of returning home.
  • Rumah Belajar (https://belajar.kemdikbud.go.id) – The online learning portal established by the Indonesian government to provide online learning materials and tests is already being used by more than 14 million people with 157 million visits since it was first developed in 2011. This portal is increasingly popular during COVID-19 and encourages students, teachers, and even parents in Indonesia to become more familiar with online learning.


  • Universities are currently limited to a maximum 30 per cent capacity on campus. This announcement (8 July) supersedes the previous announcement by the Ministry of Education (3 June) which allowed only specific categories of students to return to campus.
  • Foundation students and international students (new and returning) are returning to campus for face to face classes. Both public and private universities continue to conduct induction/orientation online.
  • A full return to campus is scheduled for October though universities are awaiting standard operating procedures from the Ministry.
  • Many universities in Malaysia (private, international and public) are looking to employ a Responsive Blended Learning approach utilising a combination of active online learning with face-to-face learning opportunities to effectively respond to changes in the external context (i.e. pandemic-related restrictions being lifted or imposed).
  • For universities in Malaysia, there is a slow acceptance from local students regarding online education. This continues to be a point of complaint alongside tuition fees for Malaysian students.
  • In the schools' sector, logistics continues to be a key challenge. In July, the Ministry of Education proposed three operation models that schools could select, aligned with the ministry’s comprehensive standard operating procedure. Model 1 recommends schools to conduct lessons within one session subject to space available. Model 2 recommends a dual session to manage space/student ratio, while Model 3 recommends a rotational system using online and face to face teaching. Model 3 was extended by the Ministry as a last resort in the event the first two have failed. Adhering strictly to the standard operating procedures has been difficult for schools and a call for model 3 has been voiced by parents. As schools trial the models, there may be scope for operational management specific digital technology to help manage the logistics of teaching and learning in the ‘new normal’.


  • The set of preventive measures against COVID-19 in force is extended to 31 July. The main regulations still in place are:
    • All commercial international flights and all visa issuance remain suspended
    • Wearing facial mask in public spaces is compulsory
    • Curfew from midnight to 0400 hrs
    • Mass gatherings, such as marriage ceremonies or religious ceremonies remain tightly restricted.
  • Schools reopened on 21 July 2020. “The School Enrolment Week” for secondary level took place across Myanmar, from 13 - 17 July. The Ministry of Education set out a number of guidelines, urging teachers, students, parents and stakeholders to strictly follow preventive measures.
  • Yangon Vocational College of Technology (YVCT) recently opened in Yangon. YVCT is a comprehensive vocational college of technology under the Ministry of Society (lead for education sector) of Yangon government. The institute currently offers eighteen majors including architecture, machinery, automobile, business management, electrical, foreign languages and services.
  • AustCham Myanmar and Austrade webinar - “My success propelled by an Australian Degree” on Wednesday 22 July. This webinar brings together Australian alumni, Australian Award Scholars and Australian re-pats to share their experiences, their career pathways upon completing their Australian degree and insightful information for international students and the sector.
  • The newly launched Doing Good Index 2020 Report stated that Myanmar has moved up from “Not Doing Enough” in 2018 to “Doing OK” in 2020 due to improvement of business registration and oversight efficiency for not-for-profits. The enabling environments for private sector, private social investment and philanthropy are some of the factors contributing to the assessment of this index.
  • Myanmar is also ranked as one of the Top 20 Improvers according to the recent Ease of Doing Business 2020 by The World Bank. Myanmar has made a number of reforms and initiatives to enhance its business environment including the launch of an online company registration platform, a new company law strengthening minority investor protections, and increased corporate transparency.


  • The Philippine Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) is offering an online Portfolio Assessment that will enable professionals, self-employed entrepreneurs, overseas Filipino workers and currently unemployed individuals find new job opportunities. Education, training, certifications from previous jobs, skills and competencies will be evaluated and certified by the TESDA Certification Office. Applicants must have a minimum of five years’ work experience relevant to the qualifications they apply for. According to the Maybank report “Labor Market: Retrenchments and Recovery”, the Philippines’ unemployment rate will hit 18.5 per cent this year – the highest in the ASEAN region. It already reached a 15-year high of 17.7 per cent in April 2020 (equivalent to 7.3 million Filipinos unemployed).
  • The creation of the ASEAN TVET Council (ATC) was approved at the last ASEAN Summit on 26 June 2020. Led by the TESDA, the ATC seeks to advance the Vocational Education and Training sector in ASEAN by providing a platform for coordination, innovation research and development and monitoring of programs. The Council aims to standardise regional TVET initiatives to enable graduates and workers to be more competitive and have better employment opportunities. The ATC will be launched in September 2020 in Vietnam.
  • A survey conducted by the Philippine Department of Education (DepEd) showed that the majority of its students prefer printed materials as a mode of instruction. Apart from online delivery and the use of broadcast media, DepEd is preparing printed self-learning modules for students in communities without access to internet. Learning packets and supplies will be available at public schools to assist parents with home schooling. DepEd is still pushing for classes to commence on 24 August but this is yet to be approved by the President.


  • Following months of economic disruption due to Covid-19, Singapore has entered into a technical recession, with the economy contracting 41.2 per cent in the second quarter from the previous three months. The Singapore government is anticipating more companies to undergo retrenchment exercises or implement wage cuts, which may escalate in the later part of 2020. Sectors that are worst-hit are those that are labour intensive such as construction, retail and tourism sectors. The Government has set aside about S$100 billion, or nearly 20 per cent of GDP, as economic support especially for those who have been retrenched and those in lower-income families. There are also support mechanisms such as wage support for affected employers to help SMEs that are struggling to remain afloat during the recession.
  • Singapore and Malaysia have agreed to implement a reciprocal “green lane” arrangement to allow for cross-border travel for long-term pass holders and essential business and official travellers, tentatively starting 10 August. However, eligible travellers still need to abide by existing COVID-19 measures, such as undergoing swab tests and sharing their itineraries.
  • Singapore’s six universities have collectively offered about 2,000 more places this year to cater to local students who are no longer pursuing overseas education due to COVID-19. There are also polytechnic graduates who have decided to continue their studies instead of working as the job market continues to weaken. This trend is expected to continue next year depending on the economic conditions in Singapore as people are more cautious with expenditure and will explore local education over international options which is heavily subsidised by the government.


  • Thailand’s Ministry of Education announced the temporary closure of 234 educational institutions in the eastern province of Rayong, as well as three schools in Bangkok as a precaution following two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the community.
  • From July, the US Embassy Bangkok and US Consulate General in the province of Chiang Mai resumed visa application services, but limited to F, M, and J visa types only. The service includes new student visa applications, however according to Thai education agents not many Thai students have applied to study in the US in upcoming fall semester (commencing August). According to the agents, the majority of Thai students have chosen to defer the commencement of their bachelor or masters degrees until January 2021 or to attend online classes this year, preferring to return to campuses when the pandemic has eased.
  • Thailand was ranked as having the third highest number of enrolments amongst ASEAN countries (after the Philippines and Indonesia) for the “Study with Australia” free online short courses delivered by Australian universities during COVID-19 between 1 April and 30 June 2020. The project was launched by Austrade in collaboration with Australian universities and FutureLearn, the company managing the online teaching platform. There were 7,688 enrolments from Thailand as part of this initiative.
  • Austrade Bangkok recently hosted a webinar on ‘A Conversation with Thai Education Agents – Market Update and Recovery Strategy’ for Australian education providers to hear from major education agents in Thailand and the peak industry body about Thailand’s current situation with respect to international students. Watch a recording of the webinar.


  • Vietnam has reached 381 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including the most recent 114 imported cases of people returning to Vietnam. As of 16 July, Vietnam has gone through 91 days straight without any community transmission.
  • Vietnam suspended the entry of all foreigners from March 22 until further notice to limit the spread of COVID-19. The measure will not apply to diplomats, officials, foreign investors, experts, and skilled workers.
  • According to the latest World Economic Outlook report on 2020 GDP growth in Vietnam, the International Monetary Fund forecasted to slow at 2.7 percent but would remain ahead of other countries in the region whereas Asian Development Bank and the World Bank went for optimistic views with expansions of 4.8 and 4.9 per cent respectively
  • The Ministry of Education and Training confirmed the high school examination will be held on 9 and 10 August. Local universities and vocational colleagues can utilise the exam results for recruitment.
  • On 30 June 2020, The World Bank approved to finance a US$295 million credit for the Vietnam National University Development Project, which will improve teaching and research capacity at Vietnam National University Hanoi, Vietnam National University Ho Chi Minh City and the University of Danang. Through investments in modern infrastructure, cutting-edge equipment and knowledge transfer, it will help accelerate the transformation of these three universities into regionally competitive institutions with advanced teaching and research capabilities.
  • According to Vietnam’s Minister of Education and Training, online teaching will be recognised as a formal method following months of experimenting as a result of COVID-19 pandemic. The ministry will soon finalise the draft of online teaching regulations at schools and education institutions. Once the regulations are in place, online teaching will be considered a form of formal teaching method. This presents opportunities for Australian international education to share expertise, experience, best practices in delivering technology curriculum in the school sector in Vietnam.
  • The Ministry of Education and Training is planning to implement the Vietnam National Qualifications Framework (VQF). The objective of the VQF is to have equivalent recognition of Vietnamese qualifications to those of regional and international qualifications, with the aim that Vietnam will become a source of qualified manpower to the world. This will present opportunities for Australian education providers to expand partnerships with Vietnam.
  • The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) granted US$4.65 million to Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) to help further its goal of achieving international accreditation. USAID will also help FUV develop executive education and other programs, through which FUV will build partnerships with Vietnam’s technology, manufacturing and service sectors.
  • UK reopened to accept study applications for 2020-21 and UK universities are looking forward to welcoming students from all over the world, including Vietnam. UK Visa Application Centres in Vietnam resumed business by the end of June after a temporary closure.
  • On 14 July, Canada’s Immigration Ministry established a new two-stage approval process for new study visa applications. The process provides a conditional approval that allows students to begin their studies online while still abroad, and then to complete the application process when visa processing services are more fully restored worldwide.
  • On 15 July, U.S. Embassy and Consulate resumed visa processing for limited non-immigrant visa categories, including student visas.


  • The European Commission has announced funding for a further 24 university groups that will join the European Universities Network (EUN), in addition to the 17 alliances already announced in 2019. The EUN is part of a plan to create a European Education Area by 2025, with a view to enhancing the quality, inclusion, competitiveness and digitalisation of European higher education. The EUN involves strategic alliances between European higher education institutions across multiple countries, with a focus on leveraging their cooperation to address societal challenges and skills gaps, including ‘green’ and digital transitions. A recent survey of the existing 17 alliances indicated that 96 per cent of the participating institutions believe they would have been better prepared to face the coronavirus pandemic if the European Universities Network had already been fully functional (it was initiated less than a year ago). Over 60 percent believe the EUN has been helpful in addressing the challenges of the pandemic, such as through the creation of virtual inter-university campuses offering joint blended courses.

Czech Republic

  • According to a survey conducted in April, Czech parents spent 3.4 hours a day home-schooling their children during the lockdown, and most believe that schools provided education sufficiently and coped well with communication with parents and students. Nearly one third of parents spent less than two hours a day home-schooling their children, 43 per cent spent from two to four hours a day, and one fifth from four to six hours.
  • The survey also showed that 51 per cent of Czechs believe elementary schools are dealing with the present situation well or very well. Parents would welcome an increased use of online testing and web conferences by schools if it minimised the burden on them.
  • The Czech Statistical Office recently highlighted that 3.3 per cent of children aged from six to 15 do not have an internet connection at home. A further 5 per cent of children have home internet, but can only have online access via their phones. In addition, many households don’t have printers or scanners, which are often necessary for homework to students.


  • As major international student destinations in Europe, industry stakeholders in Germany and the Netherlands are expecting international student numbers to grow despite the COVID-19 pandemic. This analysis is backed up by a recent survey amongst international students by Study.eu, which reveals that both countries are ranked as top alternative study destinations to the UK by EU students who are deterred by the increase in fees in the UK from the 2021-22 academic year onwards.
  • In addition, other studies show that Germany and the Netherlands are seen as safe places to study during COVID-19, which could also be a key factor for the return of international students.


  • The Ministry of Science and Higher Education has proposed to double the international student scholarship quota by 2023, from the base of 15,000, with a total budget of more than 2.5 billion roubles (AU$50.7 million). More than 300,000 foreign students from 170 countries study at Russian higher education institutions, accounting for over 7 per cent of total students. According to the national Russian language promotion agency “Russkiy Mir”, interest in Russian education remains strong, including from former Soviet republics. The latter submitted 33,000 applications for the 3,899 state-funded places that are available for students from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in 2020.
  • The Minister of Public Education stated that 25 per cent of secondary schools, from a total of 40,000, are well prepared to provide quality distance education. Low performing schools will receive support from the government as part of a recently launched “500+” program. The project is focused on assisting schools to achieve better results in the PISA ranking, with the aim of reaching a score of 500 and above across all schools. Russia’s goal is to become one of the top-10 leaders globally with respect to the quality of general education.


  • The Minister of Science and Higher Education of Kazakhstan stated that VET and higher education institutions will start the new academic year in September in a distance format. On-campus activities will be organised in line with an approved schedule for each university and may include laboratory work, PhD studies, industrial training and professional practice.

Middle East and Africa

South Africa

  • The Minister of Basic Education is expected to make an announcement within days regarding the continued opening of schools to address concerns raised by unions. Unions are requesting the Minister to close all schools to limit further spread of the Coronavirus. Government schools had started a phased reopening, with due observance of health and safety protocols, while private schools have also reopened. The reopening of schools was supported by the WHO.
  • Academic progress of learners at government schools will be severely impacted if schools are closed again and some speculate that the entire academic year will have to be written off, if that is the case. Learners from private schools are likely to complete the academic year and this group is most likely to consider tertiary education abroad. Education agents commented that there is keen interest in Australia as a study destination and they welcome the support and engagement from Australian education providers to welcome students from the continent.


  • Early agent feedback on the 20 July student visa announcement has been positive. Agent networks assess this is a positive development and will position Australia well in the post COVID-19 environment.

North Asia


  • China’s Ministry of Education (MoE), in conjunction with five other ministries has issued a Notice on Increasing Vocational College Enrolment for 2020 (“the Notice”). The Notice requires that sub-national educational authorities steadily expand the scale of higher vocational education, mobilise local resources to increase enrolments in the sector, improve teaching and training programs, and ensure full employment of graduates. Students from deprived areas, ex-servicemen, laid-off workers, migrant workers, farmers, and full-time factory workers and community-level agricultural technicians are all encouraged to sign up for vocational education programs. The Notice is part of continued efforts by the Chinese Government to upskill the workforce in the wake of COVID-19 as outlined in the Government Work Report 2020, which stated that more than 35 million vocational skills training opportunities should be provided in 2020-21, and enrolment in vocational colleges should grow by 2 million.
  • Foreign VET education providers will likely be allowed to set up institutions to deliver academic vocational education and training without a Chinese partner in pilot Free Trade Zones (FTZs), following the publication of new foreign investment “negative lists.” China’s foreign investment “negative lists” refer to lists of prohibited or restricted industries for foreign investment. The Chinese National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) recently published the Special Administrative Measures on Access to Foreign Investment (Negative List) (2020 edition) and the Pilot Free Trade Zone Special Administrative Measures on Access to Foreign Investment (Negative List) (2020 edition), with both lists taking effect from 23 July 2020. A notable change in this year’s negative lists for pilot FTZs is that foreign academic vocational education institutions are explicitly excluded from the broad prohibition on foreign education providers independently setting up institutions that mainly enrol Chinese citizens. This suggests that foreign VET institutions may be allowed to independently (i.e. without a Chinese partner) set up institutions to deliver academic vocational education and training in FTZs when the measures are implemented. Further information regarding the new negative lists can be found on the DESE website.
  • The Head of Austrade’s International Education Centre of Excellence Rebecca Hall and Trade Commissioner (Education) (North Asia) Rhett Miller delivered a webinar to 190 education agents across the Greater China region to provide an update on how the Australian government continues to support the international education sector in its response to the COVID-19 crisis. The update included information on the current impact of COVID-19 to the sector, the ongoing response, as well as support available to international students, education agents, and education providers. The update also included information regarding Australia’s new Nation Brand which will be used to market Australian international education globally into the future.

Hong Kong

  • The results of this year’s Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) were released on 22 July, with schools urged to provide the results to candidates online so they do not have to visit campus in the wake of a third wave of COVID-19 impacting the Special Administrative Region. It is expected that physical education exhibitions and activities run by the education agents following the release of the HKDSE results will be cancelled or changed to online events owing to updated social distancing rules. The third wave of the virus has led the Hong Kong Education Bureau to announce the suspension of all face-to-face lessons and activities in kindergartens, schools and tutorial centres, bringing forward the summer break for students by one to two weeks.
  • Austrade Hong Kong will launch two student videos and a social media campaign following the release of the aforementioned HKDSE results to bolster enrolments in Australian education and Australia’s education brand in the market.

North America

  • The US and Canada now have more than 3,773,000 and 112,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases respectively.


  • ICEF reported that Canada created a new approval process for study permit applications. The new two stage process, grants conditional approval for online study and more complete approval when travel and visa processing are restored. Note that 50 per cent of study must still be completed in Canada.
  • According to ICEF, Canadian Association of Public Schools – International (CAPSI) has developed protocols for the return of K-12 international students. However, those students may or may not be able to return to Canada for study. Immigration Refugee & Citizenship Canada (IRCC) recently re-started processing study permits but some components, such as biometric testing, are difficult or impossible to complete. If a student can even obtain a travel exemption to fly to Canada they must complete the mandatory 14 day quarantine period upon arrival.

United States

  • The Trump administration has rescinded immigration guidance that would have prohibited more than one million international students from studying at campuses offering online-only instruction this fall. The move came amid widespread pushback from 17 states and District of Columbia and more than a dozen technology companies (including Google, Facebook and Microsoft).
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education are tracking more than 1,210 (+135 WoW) colleges’ plans for reopening in the fall, with
    • Planning for in-person (53%, -4% WoW)
    • Proposing a hybrid model (32%, +3% WoW)
    • Planning for online (10%, +1 WoW)
    • Considering a range of scenarios (3.5%, -0.8% WoW)
    • Waiting to decide (1.2%, -0.5% WoW).
  • An analysis by LearnPlatform has shown an 89 per cent increase in the average monthly usage of EdTech tools compared to the 2018-2019 school year, including tools that they have never previously used. This is based on the online activity of more than 1.7 million learners.

South Asia


  • The Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) announced guidelines for digital education by schools and recommended a cap on screen time for students. Guidelines stress upon the use of alternative academic calendar of NCERT, for both, learners having access to digital devices and learners having limited or no access. Schools have been asked to remodel the way teaching and learning are delivered, and to ensure quality education through a mix of schooling at home and on campus. The Ministry stressed that these guidelines provide a roadmap for carrying forward online education to enhance the quality of education and will be relevant and useful for a diverse set of stakeholders including school heads, teachers, parents, teacher educators and students. This focus on quality online education provides potential opportunities for Australian education providers to help transition schools to online teaching.
  • Reliance Industries has announced its AI based education technology platform, Embibe, to help school students across the world to get access to quality education online. The platform comes with a comprehensive set of tools to make online learning seamless. The complete course layout for students can be imprinted on the platform with progress of each individual student being tracked across that course layout real-time. The platform uses video lectures, quizzes, 3D diagrams, and a whole plethora of features to make learning fun. A beta version of the Embibe platform is already live for students and teachers to test. This opens up opportunities for Australian edtech companies to offer their products or solutions collaborating with such platforms for a better student experience.
  • Apple announced a new set of tools to assist educators teaching coding to college students from grade faculty to school. Apple has additionally launched a set of books in its Everyone Can Code curriculum, a place where college students can find out about programming ideas used in apps. Google this week introduced its partnership with CBSE, the place it intends to practice 1 million academics by the end of 2020. CBSE can collaborate with IBM to combine AI-primarily based curriculum in over 200 colleges throughout the nation. It is clear online education is here to stay and there are opportunities emerging for collaboration in this space for Australian education providers.

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