Present Tense:

The pandemic – a disaster for our industry

Welcome back to another year of Present Tense, your IEU eye on the post-secondary education sector. The big story to start the year is the one that dominated 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic, and the associated fallout.

It is no secret that the pandemic has cut a huge swathe through the international student market in Australia (and elsewhere), with student numbers plummeting, jobs being cut, and colleges across the country closing their doors. It has been nothing short of a disaster for the industry, and for the 130,000 people across the nation who make their living from it, and the bad news is probably not over yet.

The magnitude of the collapse has been staggering. In October, 2019, some 51,000 international students (both new and existing) arrived in Australia; in October 2020, that number was in the low hundreds, a more than 99% drop. In many cases, it has only been the lifeline of the Federal Government’s JobKeeper program that has kept colleges open.

The main reason for this, of course, has been the closure of Australia’s international borders, closed tight since March last year, and not likely to re-open any time soon. Officially, the borders remain closed until March, but in late January, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, suggested that border restrictions may be “one of the last things to change”.

But there are signs of hope. Most notably, the roll out of vaccination programs in Australia and across the world will hopefully break the back of the pandemic, and allow society to cautiously re-open sooner than might have been the case without it. In the meantime, various governments are looking into programs to slowly return international students to Australia – the NSW Government is floating a plan to allow institutions to arrange for students to quarantine in a similar way to returning citizens, and this may yet come to fruition in the next few months.

Most providers remain hopeful that international students will be able to start returning to Australia in numbers in the second half of 2021, though such has been the fast-moving nature of developments during the pandemic, this time frame may yet be brought forward, or blow out. Either way, it’s likely that this year will remain a testing time for the industry, with the hope that things will be improving by next summer.

IEU membership

There has never been a more important time to support your union. Please ensure that your IEU membership is up to date, and encourage your colleagues to join. The IEU has strict rules on giving assistance to non financial members, or to new members with a pre-existing issue. Just as insurance companies won’t insure your house the day after it burns down, similarly, the union may not be able to assist you if you join only after a problem arises.

The IEU offers significant discounts for casual and sessional staff in the post secondary sector, of over 50 per cent of the full time rate. The typical cost of membership for an ELICOS teacher is $24 per month, while casual teachers only working intermittently might pay as low as $13.90 per month (and union fees are tax deductible).

Nearly all types of IEU membership still attract the same level of service from the union, including industrial assistance and advice, consumer benefits, and access to knowledgeable officers ready, willing and able to help you:

People can join the IEU over the phone (8202 8900), via email (, or online (, so get your colleagues to join today, and find out how the IEU can assist in your workplace.

Kendall Warren