The current COVID pandemic has hit us all both professionally and personally. Personally, I am very relaxed and easy-going person who manages stress in my work and personal life easily through a combination of regular exercise, prioritizing, and controlling what I can control and not worrying about what I cannot control.

The current pandemic is one of those uncontrollables!

However, the dramatic change imposed on both my personal life and my work life, did see my stress levels initially rise before becoming aware of the need to cope better using the mechanisms above and ensuring I stay connected with colleagues at work and friends in my personal life. Sharing the ‘pain’ and uncertainty of the future openly!

Professionally, the Australian University sector has been hit hard because of the pandemic and closure of both international and state borders. The Australian tertiary education sector has a very strong reliance on international students mainly from China. Indeed, in the state of New South Wales, 32% of the combined $11.4 billion revenue is from international students.

In Australia, 46,480 international students arrived in April 2019.

In April 2020 that figure was 30!

A huge impact on enrolment numbers and thus income to both universities and the local and Australian economy.

While my own not-for-profit University has not been as strongly impacted by a downturn in student numbers, most government-funded Universities have been hit hard due to a on over-reliance on fee-paying international students over many years.

This over-reliance has recently been exaggerated by growing political tension between China and Australia who have a strong reliance and strategic defense partnership with Donald Trump’s USA. Indeed, over recent weeks the COVID-related downturn in international student numbers has been hit again by China openly discouraging students from attending Australian universities. 

The major impacts of the downturn in income from fee-paying students have seen many Australian Universities, including our leading sandstone Universities, shedding both academic and professional staff with research income-dependent staff the most at risk.

While my own University has not seen redundancies, no new positions are being advertised, sessional staff are not being utilized as much, and both academic and professional staff are being encouraged to take accumulated leave to assist budgeting. Morale is still high and the leadership open and transparent. We promote a ‘we are in this together’ approach and include students in this approach. To facilitate this dramatic change in delivery, an extra two weeks leave were added onto the between semester break. This extra time allowed our Office of Learning and Teaching to upskill teaching staff on best practice for remote delivery and to prepare students via video-updates on how to learn most effectively in remote mode. This approach appears to have worked.

Within Australia we appear have managed the pandemic better than most. We wish our colleagues in Europe and the UK well during these challenging times. We are all in this together!      

Peter Reaburn – Professor and Head, Exercise and Sport Science, Bond University, Australia.

Photo by Catarina Sousa from Pexels

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