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Austrade regional market update on the impact of COVID-19 (as at 30 March 2020)

30 Mar 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:

ASEAN

Austrade offices across ASEAN reached out to education agents to consolidate feedback regarding COVID-19 and the impact on international student recruitment.

Indonesia

  • Parents and students are concerned for study plans commencing in June, July and August 2020, especially for those who have already invested. Most agents are not optimistic about recruitment for the June and July upcoming intakes.
  • Most students who were already in Australia have chosen to stay during this situation. Agents are in frequent contact with those students for moral and psychological support.
  • Agents are receiving frequent updates from institutions, especially from higher education and VET providers.
  • Most agent showcase activities for recruitment starting in March to the middle of the year have been cancelled.
  • Online learning from Australia, especially for higher education in Indonesia is not in high demand.

Malaysia

  • Agents in Malaysia are operating from home. Malaysians are currently under a 14-day Movement Control Order, from 18 March to 31 March.
  • Agents are continuing to engage and secure leads through phone and email communication.
  • Some agents have moved to a digital platform for their events, during what would normally be a busy season. However many are restricted due to IT infrastructure limitations.
  • Market sentiments reveal many prospective students are putting their plans to study abroad on-hold, across all countries including Australia. Some Malaysian students commencing during the April intake have deferred their programs, while others have cancelled and requested refunds. Agents are working closely with institutions involved to resolve such matters.
  • Students already in Australia have yet to make any requests regarding returning to Malaysia, nor sought help from agents with challenges to remaining in Australia.
  • Market, agents and post in Kuala Lumpur, are monitoring the situation daily to keep up-to-date with changes as they come.

Myanmar

  • Agents in Myanmar are staying up-to-date with the rapidly changing situation and impacts on health situation, visa and border issues, school enrolments and welfare of the students.
  • All major events have been cancelled or postponed. Very few agents are still organising small scale events, with students and universities communicating through web conferencing.
  • Some agents have reduced their working hours, while others are considering downsizing, at least temporarily.
  • Newly established agents and smaller scale agents have experienced a decline (almost 50 per cent) in student numbers and enquires over the past six weeks.
  • Foundation level students for this April intake are unable to leave their home country (i.e. Myanmar) due to the closing of borders, therefore unable to commence their courses.
  • Some students have deferred their semesters, returning to Myanmar, under advice from family.

Philippines    

  • The whole island of Luzon including metro Manila, is on lockdown. Several cities and provinces throughout the Philippines are also on a month-long lockdown.
  • Strict home quarantine is being observed with only essential movement permitted.
  • The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has suspended issuing visas until further notice.
  • International flights out of Luzon are limited.
  • Domestic or connecting flights to and from Manila have been suspended.
  • Classes and school activities in all levels have been suspended, and will resume on 15 April.

Singapore

  • Overall sentiment in Singapore is positive and agents feel that Australian universities have been proactive in providing regular updates to the agent network, to minimise miscommunication around COVID-19.
  • Agents that represent multiple study destinations have reported that Australia has the most open and consistent communication strategy compared to US, UK and Canada.
  • Schools and higher education institutions remain open in Singapore, although all overseas study trips and internships have been cancelled. Tertiary institutions with online learning capabilities have also been delivering modules virtually.
  • Agents and students are keen to understand on the depth of precautions that Australian universities are taking to ensure health and safety around campuses.
  • The next two months (April and May) will be critical for higher education recruitment as students will begin exploring university studies for July intake.
  • There have also been enquiries from students around the flexibility to enrol in Australian programs that are delivered via transnational education, with the option to complete part of the study in Australia once COVID-19 improves.

Thailand

  • Around 80 per cent of study abroad events hosted by education agents in February and March have been cancelled due to travel restrictions. March is usually the busiest month for education fairs in Thailand.
  • Australian education agents still held their exhibitions in mid-March. Australian alumni and/or institution counselling staff represented at these fairs. However, numbers of visitors to the fairs has declined rapidly, compared to last year, due to COVID-19.
  • Education agents in Thailand have suffered considerable financial losses through cancelled or postponed study tour programs, including cancellation of programs for more than 60 students to Australia.
  • Austrade Bangkok hosted the annual Education Agent Info Session and Visa Briefing as a webinar on 12 March, replacing the in-person briefing which is usually hosted at the Embassy. There were 175 participants at this session – education agents in Thailand, Laos and onshore in Australia. Representatives also included Australian education providers.
  • The Thai government has announced school closures from late February until further notice to reduce risk of infection for students. International schools are largely impacted due to this timing being in the middle of teaching periods, as opposed to Thai schools.
  • Thai universities have switched to online teaching for classes, to avoid students gathering at their campuses.
  • In response to ‘social distancing’ measures, all business meetings with Thai government agencies and private stakeholders are cancelled or replaced by virtual meetings.
  • After Australia announced it would suspend international arrivals from 22 March, queries have increased on the continuation of visa processing, and extensions for current student visas while everyone awaits the opening of international borders.

Vietnam

  • Agents have considerable concern for the delay of semester two — likely in four weeks — as this will delay final examinations in Vietnam. This also applies to scholarships from Australian institutions to Vietnamese agents.
  • The number of students deferring their courses is increasing. In addition, school closures in Vietnam will take place until 5 April; however this could be extended if the situation gets worse.
  • With the forecast that Australia will be closed for the next six months, institution representatives are looking into alternative options, such as online delivery. Therefore, guidance from the Australian Government will be highly sought after.
  • All face-to-face events are not permitted during this time; while big agents (IDP and ATS) are moving to virtual fairs for March and April.
  • Agents have requested regular communication from schools and Austrade on the updates for Australia.

EUROPE

  • Most countries remain in total or partial lockdown, including the closure of schools and universities, and a number have indicated the deadline for this is likely to be extended. These measures are being implemented on a country-by-country basis with some further directives also being implemented at a state/regional/provincial level.
  • Existing travel bans to/from Europe remain in place.
  • The incidence of COVID-19 has not yet peaked in Europe.
  • The predicted level of economic fall-out from the crisis continues to rise the longer the lockdowns remain in place.
  • Remote learning options are being used extensively but in diverse ways across different countries to counteract school/university closures.

Czech Republic

  • On 16 March, the public broadcaster Czech Television launched a daily broadcast project UciTelka, aimed at children at elementary school. There are twice-weekly broadcasts on Czech TV for students preparing for enrolment tests to secondary schools.
  • The Municipal Library in Prague has released over 1,300 e-books to download for free.
  • Distance learning/home schooling is being managed through numerous online platforms and applications, including Microsoft Teams, Moodle, Google Classroom, Edmodo, Edookit, and Classflow.

Germany

  • In recent years, German students have become more adventurous in their choice of study destinations and have shown increasing interest in Asian destinations. 
  • Given current global instability, together with the weakness of the Australian dollar against the Euro, some agents feel there may be a re-focus on more traditional study destinations like Australia, once the crisis has passed.

Italy

  • The Italian Government has provided €85 million to schools for digital equipment, needed to support distance learning.
  • The Ministry of Education is working with a number of public and private partners to support remote learning, including the public broadcaster RAI who will broadcast lessons via television, as well as providing other learning materials and access to their archives in order to develop online lessons.
  • A dedicated webpage with various remote learning resources for schools has also been established, as well as a program to support twinning with local schools, which already have experience with distance learning.
  • Agents are concerned about whether visas will be processed for intake from July onwards.

Poland

  • Agents have expressed a number of concerns, including:
    • Options available for those students who are currently in Australia to extend their student visas — if they expire soon
    • Whether students who have already been granted a visa but are unable to travel to Australia due to travel restrictions will have to pay the student visa fee a second time when they are required to reapply for a visa
    • If students’ visa eligibility criteria has changed during the travel restriction period (eg. there is a larger gap from the graduation date)
    • Will they still be granted a replacement visa, as well as the options available to students who have lost their jobs in hospitality and are no longer able to support themselves.
  • Agents across a number of European countries share similar concerns.

Russia

  • Following recommendations by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, around 80 per cent of local universities are offering online learning, allowing delayed practical courses in select disciplines.
  • The Control Centre of the National Research Computer Network of Russia (NICS) has established a 24-hour hotline to providing technical support to higher education and research network users.
  • Around 45 per cent of students living in dormitories returned to their home cities and are studying online. Dormitories are primarily being used by local and international students who cannot move out due to financial or other circumstances.

Sweden

  • The Swedish student finance agency is continuing to provide funding to eligible Swedish students for their study abroad experiences even if the international course they have enrolled in is placed on hold.
  • A new website for Swedish students currently studying at home due to restrictions associated with COVID-19, has been created. It is a partnership between Sweden’s national broadcaster, Sweden’s National Agency for Education and the Swedish Edtech industry.
  • Edtech Industry partners are providing free user trials for their software and learning materials through this portal.

United Kingdom

  • International students who have been unable to leave since 24 January due to travel restrictions or self-isolation will have their visas extended to 31 May 2020.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

United Arab Emirates

  • On 30 March, the UAE Ministry of Education confirmed that distance education will continue until the end of the current 2019-20 academic year (June 2020), in all public and private schools and higher education institutions at the national level. The distance education period was initially due to conclude on 8 April 2020.

Saudi Arabia

  • The Saudi Arabian government has pushed their education sector online, virtually overnight, with all K-12 public students are accessing virtual classrooms via a national portal.
  • COVID-19 has caused a significant disruption for students and to the education sector. Saudi authorities are focused on the management of the virus, and as a result the Ministry of Education is focused on student’s needs rather than launching new initiatives.
  • Government personnel are working remotely in the Kingdom until further notice, with the exception of the Health and Security departments, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.
  • Restaurants, malls, schools and flights are no longer operating in Saudi Arabia. The country has imposed a 15 hour curfew (from 3pm to 6am), with the exception of pharmacies, hospitals and grocery shops until 13 April 2020.
  • Ramadan, which starts on 23 April, 2020 is traditionally a quieter time for businesses in this region. The situation is very fluid, however K-12 students have access to blackboard for continued learning. This is the national education portal managed by Tatweer (T4EDU), a platform that supports remote learning plans during this uncertain period.

Turkey

  • The Ministry of Education has postponed university entrance exams to end-July 2020.
  • Universities will continue with online education options, until the end of semester one.
  • Student recruitment agencies will continue operations, albeit in a virtual format.
  • Recruitment events have been cancelled.

Kenya

  • Schools and institutions for higher education learning have been closed by the government from mid-March onwards.
  • Many private schools have been offering online classes for students since the closure, however some public schools have not been able to continue with learning due to infrastructure challenges.
  • The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development has signed an agreement with the national broadcasting radio and television company to broadcast lessons on their channels.
  • Agents have not yet noted any reduction in enquiries for studying in Australia, however operations are now on a virtual basis.
  • Student education fairs have been cancelled.

Nigeria

  • The Federal Ministry of Education closed all tertiary, secondary and primary schools nationwide from 23 March, until further notice.
  • International education fairs are postponed.
  • All incoming international flights with the exception of emergency and essential flights in Nigeria will not operate until 23 April.

Ghana

  • The Government has closed all schools through to tertiary institutions, for four weeks starting from mid-March.
  • All public gatherings, including religious meetings, gatherings, funerals, festivals, parties, conferences of more than 25 people have been cancelled, and citizens have been asked to practice social distancing.
  • The West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) scheduled for May/June 2020 has been suspended.
  • Education fairs including USA fairs, UKEAS fair in May are cancelled and others are on hold.
  • International education enquiries have not reduced, with many students keen to continue to process applications.
  • Some education agents are promoting online education as alternative.

Pakistan

  • All universities and schools remain closed as per state wide instructions. In Sindh province, all school/universities are closed until June, and in other states, closures are subject to extensions every two weeks until end April.
  • In the schools sector, O and A levels exams being deferred until later in the year, meaning students who otherwise would be ready for undergraduate studies in August, now will have to wait till end of 2020.
  • Some universities have commenced online sessions, engaging students via skype and whatapps groups, and providing assignments, to support the continuation of student studies.
  • The government has announced all public services offices will be closed, with replacement services offered online wherever possible, and staff working remotely.
  • Public events and activities are not permitted.
  • International flight operations have ceased and there are limited domestic flights and train services. 

NORTH ASIA

China

  • By the end of March, more than ten provinces in China had either reopened schools or announced planned reopening dates. These include Qinghai, Guizhou, Xinjiang, Yunnan, Shanxi, Ningxia, Shaanxi, Jiangsu, Inner Mongolia, Sichuan, Anhui, Jiangxi, Fujian, Hunan, Jilin, Guangxi and Hainan Provinces.
  • From 28 March 2020, China  temporarily suspended entry into the country by foreign passport holders including those with valid visas or residence permits. This will impact on foreign teachers with Z class visas who are currently outside the country. These teachers are mainly employed by bilingual/international schools and training organisations.
  • The Chinese Ministry of Education has launched a campaign to recruit retired teachers to support the development of universities in the western region of the country, including in the provinces of Xinjiang and Yunnan.
  • 120 to 140 retired teachers will start teaching in these areas in the spring semester of 2020.

Japan

  • COVID-19 cases are rising in Japan. As at 29 March, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare reported 1693 cases, with 52 deaths and a total of 28,760 PCR tests conducted.
  • Though rates of infection are not rising as dramatically as elsewhere around the world, there are many media reports of an anticipated uptick, given Japan’s relatively low rates of testing.
  • Tokyo’s Governor has requested people refrain from going outside for non-essential reasons over the weekend 28-29 March, and is anticipated to announce stricter measures approaching lock-down sometime within the next 24-48 hours. 
  • From the week of 23 March, most Australian HE institutions have shifted to online teaching modes to enable international students to continue their studies at home. However, online education is not being taken up in Japan.
  • Most Japanese students have completely stopped their study abroad programs (including exchanges) after returning from Australia.
  • Importantly, many Japanese universities that are involved in supporting exchange programs are not willing to let their students continue courses online. Reported by an agent, this could be because online teaching delivery is considered still ‘too new’ for Japanese universities and under this course delivery option it is their responsibility to monitor students, which is difficult for them under the current circumstances where they also have to look after in-bound international students at the same time. Agent feedback is that tuition fees should be discounted when offering online teaching mode. 
  • Also, this week many ELICOS providers are starting to introduce online teaching modules in Japan. However agents and schools commented that the same teaching quality and outcomes are very difficult to deliver compared with face-to-face classes.
  • Australia’s reputation as a study abroad destination continues to suffer. Concerning news on treatment of Japanese students in Australia continues to flow into the Japanese education agent network. Agents have reported that their students are facing unfair treatment including homestay issues. There are reports of Japanese students being abused at train stations and bus stops while taxi and uber drivers have refused them.

Korea

  • Encouragingly, Korea’s COVID-19 curve appears to be flattening.
  • The number of new COVID-19 cases per day has decreased to around 100. Meanwhile the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 infections is increasing.
  • K-12 schools are expected to open the first semester on 6 April, but schools are preparing online classes for back-up, in case school openings are further delayed.
  • Universities are offering lectures via online.
  • Prime time Korea news featured a disturbing report of a Korean working holiday person being targeted in Australia, in relation to COVID-19.
  • An initiative to promote our tertiary institutions via digital platforms is being developed with a marketing agent, and a brief will be finalised next week.
  • New articles promoting Australian blockchain expertise, courses and credential verification programs will be submitted for publication in the journal for the Korean Council of University Education.

Mongolia

  • The Government of Mongolia has taken prompt action to prevent further COVID-19 outbreaks spreading.
  • All borders have been closed since January.
  • All international air and rail passengers’ transportation has been suspended since the start of March and is expected to remain in place until 30 April.
  • The Ministry of Education and Science of Mongolia has extended the opening of all education sectors semesters until 30 April.
  • A number of students who were scheduled to enter Australia in February, to commence their courses from March, could not depart and have had to defer.
  • Uncertainty exists for courses commencing in July. At the moment, the situation is being monitored by the local agents, education providers.
  • A webinar for education agents is planned, to be jointly organised with the Department of Home Affairs.

LATIN AMERICA

Argentina

  • Argentina is still under complete lockdown.
  • The Federal Government will announce extension of the quarantine period until 13 April.
  • Police and armed forces are at checkpoints in strategic places to deter people from the streets.
  • All non-essential public and private workers are working remotely.
  • All schools and universities are closed.
  • The Government announced the closure of all air, land and maritime borders, effective from 27 March until 31 March. This means shutting off all access to the country to both citizens and visitors.
  • Total cases number 589, with 13 deaths as at 27 March 2020.

Brazil

  • According to Minister of Health, at 26 March, Brazil recorded 2,915 infected with 77 deaths throughout the country.
  • São Paulo remains the state with the highest number of deaths and confirmed cases. The states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are going through the strictest quarantine. The governor of Sao Paulo announced the whole state must quarantine until 7 April (15 days).
  • Apart from schools, shopping malls and gyms, restrictive measures have been applied to bars, cafes and restaurants. Restaurants will be allowed to operate only through delivery services.
  • Essential services in the areas of public health, private health, food, supply, security and cleaning will not suffer from quarantine. Therefore, hospitals, clinics, supermarkets and bakeries (without ready-to-eat services) will remain open.
  • After closing borders with other South American countries, the Brazilian government banned all flights coming from Europe and Asia.
  • Foreigners entering the country through airports are still restricted.
  • During this time of social isolation and quarantine, universities and business schools have expanded access to free online content, ranging from management teaching to technical programming knowledge.

Colombia

  • The Ministry of Health confirmed that the number of people infected by coronavirus in Colombia rose to 491 and the death toll to six. 
  • A three-week total lockdown began just after midnight Tuesday and is set to last until 12 April. From 16 March, all land, air and sea borders were closed, and will remain shut until 30 May.
  • National flights have been suspended and the arrival of international passenger flights to the country's airports is currently banned for a period of 30 days.
  • This measure affects both Colombians and foreigners. 

Chile

  • The Ministry of Health confirmed that the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 has reached 1,610 with 5 deaths.
  • On Thursday 26 March, Chile began the total lockdown of the main suburban areas of Santiago (Vitacura, Las Condes, Providencia, Lo Barnechea, Ñuñoa, Santiago anda Independencia) meaning that 1,341,000 people must now remain in their homes for the next week to contain the pandemic's progress.
  • The Ministry of Education has suspended classes again for the next two weeks, meaning that schools and universities will remain closed until 27 April, extending the school year until the end of December.
  • Both schools and universities are implementing online content delivery and using diverse edtech tools.

Mexico

  • The Ministry of Health confirmed that the number of people infected has risen to 585 and the death toll to 8, as at 27 March.
  • Federal authorities are reinforcing the message of keeping a healthy distance among individuals and to stay at home. The private sector and some state governments have taken similar actions.
  • Mexico is officially in Stage 2 of lockdown measures
  • The country is still open to international aviation and cruises.
  • President Lopez Obrador declared that there will be no fiscal or economic incentives to the private sector to deal with the coming economic crisis.

Peru

  • Since 15 March, all land, air and sea borders were closed in Peru and will remain shut until the end of April.
  • The Ministry of Health confirmed the number of people infected by COVID-19 in Peru rose 635 with a death toll of 8, as at 27 March.
  • The government has announced two more weeks lockdown, which is now set to last until 12 April.
  • All schools and universities in the country are closed, however most private universities are teaching classes online.
  • The Ministry of Education has its officials working from home which gives continuity to the workload.
  • The PRONABEC government agency in charge of the national scholarship scheme has advised that the period to apply for this scholarship continues as scheduled, starting the first week of April.
  • Local education agents are keen to help continuity in business and they are already looking for new education opportunities.

NORTH AMERICA

  • The United States overtook Italy and China with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide, with over 100,000 cases.
  • Canada will exempt international students from travel restrictions, which currently prevent foreign travellers from entering the country. The exemption will apply to all students that held, or had been approved for, a Canadian study permit as of 18 March.
  • The US Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) have notified the National Association of Foreign Student Advisors (NAFSA) they are committed to remaining flexible so that students can continue their program of study.
  • $14 billion was allocated for higher education in the proposed US federal pandemic response stimulus package, which is less than the $50 billion that higher education advocacy groups requested from Congress.
  • A COVID survey by HolonIQ showed 66.3 per cent of survey respondents based in North America said that there will be worse short-term impacts, while 30 per cent reported greater long-term negative impacts.
  • A survey by online learning group Quality Matters and Eduventures showed 70 per cent of US colleges expect to launch fully online undergraduate programs in the next three years, and 85 per cent of colleges for graduate programs.
  • 2.4 million US undergraduates (or 15 per cent of the total undergraduate study body) studied entirely online in the fall of 2019 and another 3.6 million students enrolled in one or more online courses while studying on campus. These numbers for online education will grow. In contrast, 70 per cent of American faculty members have never taught a virtual course before.
  • Some US institutions are now accepting the results of the Duolingo English Test, either as stand-alone proof or as a supplement to other measures of English-language proficiency.

SOUTH ASIA

India

  • India’s prime minister announced a 21 day lockdown to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, starting 25 March 2020.
  • As a result of the lockdown, India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has sent a circular to all states and autonomous bodies for schools and higher education institutions to work on an alternate academic calendar for year 2020-21.
  • Government consider the lockdown as a vacation period for schools and intend on starting the new session once the situation returns to normal..
  • The education sector has moved to virtual and digital delivery with international schools, agents and institutions regearing to deliver remotely.
  • Indian universities have been advised by the University Grants Commission to conduct academic activities online during the closure.
  • All exams have been postponed. Several online learning platforms are offering their services to a wider audience.
  • Toppr made its services free for use for some time, especially for year 10 and year 12 students in India. At the same time, global platforms such as Coursera and edX gave free access to their courses online.
  • The Government has extended a ban on international flights until 14 April 2020 and domestic passenger flight operations are also suspended during the lockdown.

Sri Lanka

  • The Sri Lankan government has declared an island-wide curfew.
  • Travelers should expect additional curfews that may come with little notice and be specific to individual regions.
  • Departing passengers transiting through the airport are still being allowed to travel. The government has suspended visas on arrival for tourists to control the spread of the virus.
  • The government has ordered the closure of schools and universities for five weeks from 12 March to 20 April, which also marks the end of the first term, while academic school exams for the first term have also been cancelled.

Bangladesh

  • Bangladesh has imposed a nationwide lockdown, to curb the spread of COVID-19.
  • All domestic commercial flights have been suspended until further notice as part of efforts to encourage people to stay at home.
  • The government closed all academic institutions, from the primary to higher education levels, and dormitories until 9 April.
  • Decisions will be made later on upcoming public exams set for April, to see if they will go ahead or be suspended.

 

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.