BY PRANJALI SEHGAL
An open letter demanding fee reductions for international students has been sent to the Vice-Chancellor of Monash University by the Monash University International Students’ Services (MUISS).
The letter sent on May 11 to the VC, Professor Margaret Gardner AC, demanded the university answer concerns regarding full-priced international students’ fees amid on-campus restrictions, which have been in effect since the lockdown.
It also insisted on an official answer explaining how international students’ fees were being spent and why they were not partly refundable given the halt to on-campus attendance.
MUISS president Helen Minh Hang Vu said the student committee is advocating for “direct and clear communication from the university” in relation to the rights, interests and welfare of international students.
“It is assumed international students, until proven or confirmed otherwise, do pay for non-academic services and facilities on campus that they are no longer benefiting from because the semester is now online,” Ms Vu said.
“The reason we ask for a refund is solely based on the fact we're no longer benefiting from the on-campus infrastructure and not because the quality of teaching is sub-par from what it was before.”
Monash University biochemistry and microbiology student Nathan Chai Her Xiang does not believe he is getting his money's worth this semester.
“[International students] pay around $5000 per subject per semester, that’s about $40,000 a year, and I don’t understand how Monash expects us to pay the same amount when we can’t access most of the campus facilities,” Mr Chai said.
“We can email lecturers, ask questions, access some academic services and counselling - but that isn’t comparable to campus life.”
Mr Chai fears he may not be able to graduate in time due to not finishing his practical lab training and is worried about his student visa expiring.
“STEM degrees should seriously be considered for refunds because a big part of their degree is based on lab learning and practical experiments,” he said.
“I don't think it is justified that Monash is charging us the same amount.”
When MOJO News contacted Monash University, the spokesperson clarified the university will not be reducing semester two fees in lieu of “very positive feedback” students have provided concerning semester one online learning.
“We have invested heavily in infrastructure, technology and academic support surrounding our online offering and are confident it is world-class,” the spokesperson said.
“The outcomes of a Monash online degree are equivalent to that of an on-campus degree.”
The spokesperson said in addition to the $15 million compassionate and hardship package rolled out earlier in the semester, they have also implemented several other changes.
These changes include extending census dates, refunding student parking permits and providing loans to students at risk of discontinuing studies.
Key organiser of student advocacy group Monash Uni: Support Your Students Drew Alsop said international students should have some measure of fee relief considering off-campus circumstances.
“We would like to echo the concerns raised by MUISS about fees and express our support for everything they have done so far,” Mr Alsop said.
“International students need to be treated as students, instead of fee-paying customers.”
“They are already in a precarious enough situation as it is without their exorbitant fees - and even outside of the pandemic their fees are still incredibly high.
“There’s a structural problem now where universities are highly corporatised and treat students like cash cows,” he added.
Monash University Master of Counselling student Vidya Yeleswarapu has experienced a $1200 jump in course fees this semester.
“The university, as per my initial offer letter, can change the fee while I’m enrolled so I didn’t really question it,” Ms Yeleswarapu said.
“I’m not getting my money’s worth and I hope Monash does consider reducing the fees next semester, if classes are online.”
Some universities across Australia have offered fee reductions as a coronavirus support measure.