​International Education Provider Pleads for Support

17.04.2020 Richelle Ward

As the weeks and milestones of COVID 19 gain momentum, the team here at the ECA would like to share some stories of triumph and tribulation from our exporting community. 

ECA Queensland member and passionate environmentalist, Shelly Bengiat, Director of Envirotech Education (ET) and winner of the Premier of Queensland’s Export Award for Sustainability 2019 is faced with not only the separation of her own family due to COVID 19 but with the distressing facts surrounding international students caught between the cracks of this pandemic.

Established in 2008, ET offers accredited training across Digital Media, Early Childhood, Hospitality, Business and the award winning Marine, Environment & Sustainability certificates.

Normally, there are approximately 900 students engaged across the three campus locations set in tranquil locations including the idyllic Byron Bay, Currumbin Valley and Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast.

Today it’s an extremely different picture and Shelly is working tirelessly to mitigate the financial impact on the business while also receiving hundreds of pleading requests from students that have found themselves caught in stressful situations with little to no help to escape their circumstances.

Stories of students living in cars, camping at the school grounds, renting through Air BNB, unable to pay fees or take control of a new lease is now the norm in this COVID 19 environment.

“This is not the time to turn our back on the International Education sector. As one of Australia’s leading exports and contributors to our economy, something needs to be done to secure not only the current financial situation but also Australia’s ongoing international education reputation.”

“The message from the government is for international students to go home although there are no flights available. This only aggravates the situation and leaves students confused and scared. I’ve had students pack up their lives to leave and then told at airports that flights are cancelled and there is no way home, as a result they are left stranded.”

“Mental health is also a big factor for these students. A counselling service to help those stuck in an overseas country with no way to get home to their families would be of great benefit right now,” said Mrs Bengiat.

Like many education providers ET is now delivering courses online although while the new norm is being adopted there is a plea for some support from the government.

“Why should private education providers be forced to run at a loss to protect the international education sector? Can’t the Tuition Protection Service Levy (TPS) be used to sustain us for just one term in this crisis, “said Mrs Bengiat.

To help with the stress and complexity of the unknown ET is working with students on projects that involve setting up a sustainable community as a solution for the COVID 19 international student accommodation crisis. Known as their SOL campus, students are learning to grow their own food by utilising the campus greenhouse to cultivate flowering plants that can be utilised for their own food source, but also with an option to sell to the local community. For example, a fully grown tomato plant that is ready for harvesting.

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