Paying for services we don’t use: Stranded students enrolled at Aussie varsities

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Rahul Gupta, a student from New Delhi enrolled at an Australian university, has paid over 18 lakh as his first-year tuition fee but has not even attended a single class on campus since his admission in June last year. He was supposed to be in Brisbane by May last year but then flights were suspended. Gupta said his university asked the Indian students to secure their admissions by depositing the fees and that chartered flights would be arranged for them. He added it has been a year since, but no flight was arranged.

Thousands of Indian students studying abroad have been unable to attend their universities because of travel restrictions in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Another student, Umang Kalia, enrolled at an Australian university, said his varsity threatened to get his student visa cancelled if he did not pay the annual fees of over 15 lakh. “This includes sports, campus, and medical emergency fee… we never utilised [these facilities] but still have to pay…”

Kalia said the universities do not care if we pass or fail the exams and schedule online classes at 2 am and 9 am. “These timings change every week as per their convenience, uncaring of how we cope…,” said Kalia, who was among the students who protested twice outside the Australian High Commission in India.

Simar Bawa, who is enrolled for a Bachelor of Arts programme in Sydney, said in mid-March, her varsity asked them to vacate their hostel. “The university told us that our hostels are going to be used for quarantine facilities and they shifted us to a place where 40 people used a common washroom. It was an unliveable situation and even when we wanted to rent a separate house, we could not because the lease agreement there needs to specify a time period for rent and we did not know it as the university did not inform us till how long did we have to stay out of our hostel.”

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Bawa, who has paid over 10 lakh fees for four months, said she and her friends had no option but to return to India as universities also shifted to an online mode of teaching temporarily.

Aarush Asija, another student who has taken an education loan and has completed the first year of master’s in mass communication and advertising at an Australian university, said they have been paying even for facilities they cannot avail. “I applied for a rebate in tuition fees because I was not able to attend the classes in person like other students in Australia do right now. The university suggested that I leave the course if I could not afford it.”

Asija said teachers were insensitive as well. “…when I asked a teacher if there was a possibility to change the timing of classes as most of the Indian students were unable to attend these classes at midnight, he told us to get lost…” Asija said he is looking to delay his degree by a year as the chances of returning seem very bleak and he does not want to pay so much for just online classes.

“I took a bank loan last year when an Australian dollar was 51…in just a year, the value has increased to 56. “

Many states have been arranging priority vaccination for such students, but they say these efforts are not enough. “Many countries have not yet mandated travellers to be immunised. Why is the government only pushing for vaccination and not our return instead?” a student asked.

HT has reached out to Australia’s foreign ministry for comments, but it did not respond immediately. An external affairs ministry official said the call in such matters lies with the governments that have banned the incoming flights from India and India cannot do much in such matters.



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