The coronavirus pandemic continues to dominate every corner of the sector. Post-secondary education is particularly vulnerable to fallout from the pandemic, as might be expected in an industry almost entirely reliant on the arrival into Australia of international students. As long as the borders stay closed to non-residents (as they have been since March), it is hard to see how the sector can recover any time soon.
Since the last edition of Future Perfect, we have seen the virus greatly recede across the country, with huge drops in new case numbers from the peak in late March, to the point that by June, we might have hoped that worst was behind us.
But then the second wave hit Melbourne, forcing that city back into lockdown in August. The drastic measures taken there do seem to be having the desired effect, with new daily case numbers back to about 50 new cases a day (from upwards of 700 a month ago), while numbers in Sydney have hovered around 10 new cases a day – not eliminated, but not out of control either.
The overall trajectory of the virus matters, because conditions for the sector will not improve until the overall situation improves. This is most obviously the case with border closures, but also with regard to social distancing requirements making regular teaching arrangements difficult.
History suggests that widespread pandemics of this sort can take two years or more to fade away, though this may be expedited with the development of an effective vaccine. The good news is that many candidates look promising, and it seems more likely than not that we will have a workable vaccine by early 2021.
When things start returning to normal, Australia will have something of a good story to market as a “COVID-safe” environment in which to study. Planning for this needs to start now. Most colleges accept that sacrifices need to be made to defeat the virus, but without any certainty about a date to reopen the borders (however tentatively), it is difficult for colleges to plan, and for employees to feel confident about the future.
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