Covid-19 Leaves Universities Short On International Students—And Money
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Covid-19 Leaves Universities Short On International Students—And Money

Experts on the sector say it will take years for the schools, among the best in the world, to recover from the economic damage.

By Mike Cherney
Fri, Feb 5, 2021 5:36amGrey Clock 4 min

SYDNEY—Australia’s decision to close its borders protected it from the coronavirus. But that policy is wreaking havoc on the country’s universities, which relied on lucrative tuition from foreign students who are stuck overseas.

Experts say it will take years for the schools, among the best in the world, to recover from the economic damage. Already, Australian universities have cut more than 17,000 jobs, according to industry group Universities Australia. It said operating revenue fell 4.9% last year and is expected to fall another 5.5% this year.

“As students finish and we haven’t got new ones coming, we’re yet to hit the bottom basically,” said Peter Hurley, a policy fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Education and Health Policy, which forecast that the country’s universities could lose up to $15 billion in international tuition through 2023.

Leaders all over the world have needed to balance protecting their populations from the virus with the economic damage that those policies can cause. But with a vaccine rollout expected to start in Australia soon, pressure is ramping up on conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison to provide clarity on how and when international students could return.

Leaders in the nation’s states and territories have pressed for some places in the quarantine system to be reserved for international students, but Mr. Morrison has argued that returning Australians must come first. Thousands of Australians remain stranded overseas because the government has imposed caps on returning travelers, part of an effort to ease pressure on its hotel quarantine system and to minimise the risk of highly contagious variants of the coronavirus from spreading into the community.

The matter could be discussed at a cabinet meeting later this week. Any change in policy could signal whether Mr. Morrison is ready to loosen border restrictions with vaccines on the horizon.

Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia, said overseas students are starting to doubt that they will return to Australia this year. He is concerned some students may drop out and go study in other countries like Canada, the U.K. and the U.S.

“The stickability of those students is now in question,” he said.

Ahmed Korayem, a 32-year-old in Egypt, wasn’t sure whether to start a master’s program in compliance and regulation at an Australian university because of the country’s border closures. He worries that studying online wouldn’t be the same as being there in person and that it would be difficult to interact with his professors because of the time difference.

Mr. Korayem has decided to enroll at school, but he said a prolonged period of border closures could force him to drop out later.

“If it’s three months and then I would be able to move and continue my studies face-to-face, I can handle this. If it’s more than that, then I think no,” Mr. Korayem said. “The uncertainty can be stressful.”

Foreign students, particularly from China and India, have been lured to Australia by its relative proximity to Asia, easy access to visas and high-quality schools. Australian universities charged them higher fees than domestic students; international tuition at one point made up more than 40% of student revenue at universities, according to an estimate from the Mitchell Institute.

Although students can study remotely online, international-student enrollments were already down 14% as of November, according to Australian government data. The number of international students physically in the country has fallen further—and is down about 35% when compared with pre-pandemic levels—according to the Mitchell Institute’s Mr. Hurley.

“I don’t think anybody had on their risk scenarios literally no international travel,” said Paul Duldig, chief operating officer at Australian National University in Canberra, the capital. The school estimates its international-student tuition fees fell last year by about 30%.

Aside from cutting staff, universities are delaying campus improvements and eliminating fields of study. Australia’s reputation for producing important academic research is also at stake, given that universities used much of that international tuition to fund scholarly pursuits. About 11% of Australia’s researchers, including postgraduate students and staff, could lose their jobs due to the decline in fees from international students, according to research from the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education.

To make up for the revenue decline, the Australian government included about $770 million in aid to fund university research in this financial year’s budget. But a long-term solution depends on allowing international students back into the country, according to academics who have studied university finances.

Before the pandemic, Australia was the third top destination for international students, behind the U.S. and the U.K., according to United Nations data. Australian universities were also more reliant on international students than other countries. In 2018, 27% of all students in higher education in Australia were from overseas, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of wealthy countries that has 37 members. That was the second highest percentage in the OECD, behind tiny Luxembourg. In the U.S., just 5% were international students.

At Monash University, one of Australia’s top research schools, tuition from international students fell $85 million last year and overall revenue dropped by $270 million, a nearly 5% decline. The school is cutting 277 jobs and eliminating 2% of its courses. It is also shelving or deferring long-term building plans, including a new medical educational center, a biomedical teaching facility and an artificial-intelligence and data-science building.

Margaret Gardner, president and vice chancellor of the university, said having international students on campus enriches the academic experience for domestic students who get exposed to different cultures and viewpoints even if they are going to school close to home.

“It’s not just about plugging a hole,” she said. “I can’t begin to tell you how much difference it makes to the education you provide.”



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Savvy travellers who plan their trips around dining at their destination’s most in-demand restaurants know that securing a reservation at a top Paris eatery isn’t an easy proposition on any given day.

Come the Olympics in July, when the city is flooded with tourists, one would expect the jockey sport to snag a table to be that much more intense. But that’s not necessarily shaping up to be the case. As of mid-May, Parisian insiders such as hotel managers, restaurant owners, and local luxury concierges reported that inquiries at sought-after spots were no higher than usual, foretelling a potential opportunity for visitors looking for a fine-dining experience during the games.

The time to book falls over the next few weeks given that many top spots don’t take reservations until one month before the dining date.

The Michelin-starred Jean Imbert Au Plaza Athenee and Le Relais Plaza, both at Hotel Plaza Athenee and helmed by the renowned French chef Jean Imbert, are two examples.

Francois Delahaye, the COO of the Dorchester Collection, a hospitality company that includes the Plaza Athenee and a second Paris property, Le Meurice, says that his regular guests who are visiting for the games and Parisians who frequent the restaurants know not to call too far in advance of when they want to dine.

Further, he doesn’t foresee reservations being a challenge at either venue or at Le Meurice’s two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Le Meurice Alain Ducasse.

“Booking for the restaurants won’t be an issue because people are planning meals at the last minute,” Delahaye says. “Also, the people who are in Paris specifically for the Olympics are here for the games, not to eat at restaurants. They’re not the big-spending clientele that we usually get.”

Delahaye doesn’t expect the kinds of peak crowds that descend on fine dining during Fashion Week each spring and autumn, for example, when trying to land a seat at the three eateries is nearly impossible. “People are fighting to get in,” he says. “You need to book through your hotel’s concierge, have an inside source, or be a hotel or restaurant regular.”

Several Paris luxury concierge companies echoed Delahaye’s perspective

Manuel de Croutte, the founder of Exclusive & Private, says that Paris regulars probably aren’t planning a trip when the Olympics transpire—from July 26 to Aug. 11—because they want to avoid the tourist rush. “We’ve gotten some reservation requests from people who’ve heard about us but not nearly as many as we usually get when the very wealthy travellers are here,” he says.

During peak periods like the French Open or Fashion Week, de Croutte says that his job entails making bookings for travellers who don’t have any other way to get into buzzy or Michelin-starred establishments.

“You’re unlikely to get a table at a see-and-be-seen place without knowing someone,” de Croutte says. “No one picks up the phone or answers email.” He says his team has established relationships with managers and owners of many of the hot spots in Paris and often visits them in person to land tables.

Exclusive & Private’s Black Book of Paris restaurant recommendations for Olympic visitors span a broad range, from casual bistros to fine-dining.

Michelin eateries include the three-star Le Gabriel at La Reserve, the two-star Le Clarence near the Champs-Elysee, and the two-star Le Taillevent.

Spots without a Michelin star but equally notable are also on de Croutte’s list: L’ Ami Jean offers traditional and flavourful southwestern French cuisine, Allard is a brasserie from Alain Ducasse, and Laurent serves French food to a fashionable set.

“My favourite neighbourhood for restaurants is Saint Germain de Pres,” de Croutte says. “You’ll find unassuming but chic names with excellent food and a great vibe. You can book with these places directly if you’re here for the Olympics, but don’t wait until the last minute because they will get filled.”

He also cautions that some Paris eateries are asking for nonrefundable prepayments for reservations during the Olympics.

“Be sure you want to go before committing and ask about the refund policy if you are charged,” he says.

Stephanie Boutet-Fajol, the founder of Sacrebleu Paris, says her bespoke travel company charges a lump sum of about US$750 to make all the restaurant bookings for the Olympic period, though the price varies depending on the dates and the number of restaurants that a client requests. “Reservations around the closing ceremony are harder to come by because that’s when more elite travelers are coming to Paris and want the chic restaurants that are always difficult to get a table at,” she says.

Meanwhile, chefs at some Michelin-starred restaurants share that they have tables available during the Olympics and welcome travellers to their establishments.

Thibaut Spiwack, for one, behind the Michelin-starred Anona, serving modern French cuisine, and the culinary consultant for the popular Netflix series Emily in Paris , says that he is open for reservations.

“My team and I look forward to sharing a culinary experience with new clientele that I hope will remain in their memory,” he says.

Spiwack suggests that travellers check out other worthwhile restaurants where he himself dines. For terrific wine, there’s Lava, and for Italian, he likes Epoca where the pastas are “divine.” Janine is the best bistro in town, and Prima wins for a pizza fix, he says.

“You have a lot of restaurants in Paris to pick from,” Spiwack says. “You just need to determine where you want to go, and book as soon as you can.”