COVID-19 having 'catastrophic' impact on independent providers

COVID-19 having

One in four providers are seeing students cancel or postpone their studies due to the Novel coronavirus, according to new data from independent providers in the higher education sector.

Earlier this month, the Federal Government suspended all travel from mainland China to Australia in response to the outbreak of the virus. The measure applies to everyone except Australian citizens, permanent residents and their families, until further notice.

Now, according to the sector’s peak body, the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA), a number of independent providers have advised that the COVID-19 outbreak threatens their viability.

“Australia’s independent tertiary education providers enjoy a reputation internationally for providing high quality education and training,” Troy Williams, ITECA chief executive, said.

“This reputation endures – however, an increasing number of providers are saying international students are either postponing or cancelling their studies in Australia”.

A survey of ITECA members shows that 10% of providers supporting international students have experienced students cancelling their enrolment, and 24% of providers have students that have postponed their enrolment.

‘A catastrophic impact’

As travel restrictions on students from China continue, the impact on international providers is expected to grow.

“The sector is facing some real challenges right now as providers experience a significant decrease in student numbers,” Williams said.

“Should the travel restrictions on Chinese students endure, the impact on the mid-year intake will be catastrophic for many providers”.

ITECA notes the willingness of the tertiary sector’s regulators, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) and the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) to support providers, including those gearing up to support students via online learning.

The challenge, according to ITECA, is that many courses simply don’t transition well to online delivery.

“Online delivery is great for some disciplines, but for many courses that have a practical hands-on component, online training isn’t an option,” Williams said.

“From aviation, construction, commercial cookery to hospitality it’s simply not possible to provide training and assessment online”.

Financial viability under threat

Currently, there are around 140 independent higher education providers and some 3,500 independent vocational education and training providers.

The ITECA State Of The Sector Report notes that international students with independent tertiary education providers contribute more than $3.5bn to the Australian economy.

However, data collected from ITECA members indicates that around 12% of independent providers have assessed the impact of COVID-19 as being of sufficient magnitude to impact their financial viability.

“Independent tertiary education providers have a track-record of supporting not only domestic students, but also those from overseas,” Williams said.

“It’s imperative that as the Australian Government considers a package of measures to support Australia’s $39 billion international education sector, that the role of independent tertiary education providers is acknowledged and reinforced”.