Finding themselves far from home, with no work or income, many international students struggled financially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since June 2020, the NSW Government, through Study NSW and Service NSW, has supported more than 5500 international students, with a $20 million Temporary Crisis Accommodation Scheme. The scheme allowed eligible students to receive up to 20 weeks of accommodation.
This need was identified through feedback from institutions that students were struggling with the financial burden of paying rent and other essential items, due to the impact of the pandemic.
As part of the program, education providers were required to provide a letter of support to students who were applying. UNSW provided 228 students with support letters. The Student Support Team actively case managed these students with regular check-ins and supported them with planning for the future.
One such student was Mohammad Talha Ahmed, originally from Pakistan and studying a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering.
During 2020 Mohammad faced a number of different circumstances and things started to feel unmanageable. His working hours were reduced by 50%, his lease ended and he had to move into a shared room. This increased his anxiety about catching COVID-19 as his roommate was working full-time in customer service. At home in Pakistan, COVID-19 was also spreading and impacting his family’s business. This too was a growing source of concern for Mohammad, and he felt helpless to provide them with support, being so far away.
Mohammad soon found himself having to choose between paying rent or food. He didn’t have a quiet place to study, as the University, including the library, had been closed due to lockdown. As a fourth year student, this was beginning to impact on his University work. He began to experience migraines and his anxiety was becoming more severe. In T1 2020 he made the difficult decision to take program leave, not knowing what to do or who to talk to.
Mohammad spoke with a friend who told him about the crisis accommodation and the International Student Advisors service. He joined the virtual queue and spoke with an advisor about his experience. He then applied for and was granted crisis accommodation at UNSW Village for 20 weeks. He moved in two weeks before the exam period in T2 and had regular appointments with his advisor.
Mohammad worried that he was going to fail both courses in T2, but with hard work and dedication he passed both of them. At this point things started to improve for him, and without having to worry about rent payments, Mohammad could eat regular meals again. The migraines subsided, he had a quiet place to study and his own personal space, and he felt supported.
During his time in crisis accommodation, Mohammad continued to have regular appointments with his advisor, talking through strategies to support him in his studies. He was able to stay in crisis accommodation until the end of T3 exams. He then worked out a plan for summer and was accepted into International House prior to the end of 2020.
Throughout the summer Mohammad worked two jobs and saved in preparation for the year ahead. Today he is continuing his studies and has been able to secure an internship for T1 2021. He continues contact with his advisor but is feeling much more secure this year. Mohammad found the support service helpful and wished he knew about it earlier in his degree. “I don’t know what would have happened and where I would be if I hadn’t found your service – I wish all students knew how great it was and how much you have helped me,” he said.