It’s been a long time coming, but this week saw a return to crowded campuses, queues in front of university shops, and diverse faces as international students returned to Canberra after Australia’s borders finally reopened to fully vaccinated visa holders on Monday (21 February).
Orientation Week saw campuses at ACT universities buzzing again as pandemic restrictions loosened their hold, although the ANU has since confirmed that more than 200 people across 12 student residences have contracted COVID-19.
International students are looking forward to studying on campus and experiencing Canberra life for the first time in two years.
Gorden Lu is studying for a Bachelor of Psychology (Hon) at ANU. He returned to Canberra from China just before Christmas. He said attending classes on campus would make a big difference to his studies.
“Because I’m studying for my honours … I need to communicate with my supervisor very often,” he said.
“Once I am back on campus, I will have more opportunities to meet with my supervisor in person to consult on my project and discuss the details.”
Gorden said it was also important to access the university’s facilities, particularly the laboratories.
“If our project includes experiments, we actually need to use the resources on-site,” he said.
David Li, a freshman who arrived in Canberra two weeks ago to study science, said the on-campus experience was important for university study.
“The in-person lecture works much better for me,” he said. “When I listen to the lecturer face to face and see classmates around, I can focus and get fully engaged with the course. I usually got distracted very easily when I was in online study.
“That’s why I choose to come to the uni in my first semester. My parents are also very supportive of my coming to Canberra. They think that the on-campus life and real local experience are very important components of studying in Australia.”
An Australian education has always been highly prized by international students and their parents. On a list of top countries in the world to study abroad released by education.com in January, Australia just pipped Canada to take out the top spot.
ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt delivered his 2022 State of the University address on 7 February, expressing his commitment to delivering a student experience “as good as the best in the world”.
“The pandemic will remain part of our lives in 2022, but it will no longer rule them,” Professor Schmidt said.
“We need to adapt to live with COVID as safely as possible, and we will have to stay on that footing this year … but I am optimistic 2022 will be closer to a normal year.
“We cannot underestimate the academic environment we are surrounded by, but this environment only works if we are here together.”
ACT businesses are stepping up to support returning international students. Newstars Education Migration, a Canberra-based migration agency, delivered free COVID support packages and household items to international students, including stationery, masks, sanitiser and gift cards.
“We want to do something for the international students,” said Victor Lin, NewStars Education Migration Canberra manager.
“We have lost more than 50 per cent of our potential market over the past two years due to the pandemic. With this activity, we want to convey a positive signal – life is starting to return to normal gradually .”