Inclusion in Times of Covid‑19: The Case of International Students in South Africa
The Covid‑19 pandemic has caused major disruptions to the teaching, learning and research functions of universities around the globe. It has also impacted their internationalisation efforts in significant ways. From the perspective of South Africa’s public higher education sector, this article reflects on how international students at the country’s universities have been affected by national and institutional responses to Covid‑19. It highlights the specific challenges and constraints international students faced in light of Covid‑19 related restrictions such as travel bans, university closures and the national lockdown. In doing so, several aspects of the international student experience are explored, specifically regarding travelling home, communication, accommodation and immigration. The article also addresses the issue of remote learning and academic continuity, arguing that international students, especially those who were outside the borders of South Africa, are at risk of being left behind. It advocates for the inclusion of international students in national and institutional considerations and plans for the successful completion of the 2020 academic year. The article recognises that, in the absence of coordinated national responses, institutional approaches to the treatment of international students have differed from one university to another. Such differences can be linked to the differentiated nature of the South African higher education sector, where the capacity of institutions to deal with Covid‑19 related challenges and to respond comprehensively to the needs of different groups of international students varies in accordance with the availability of relevant structures, systems, digital platforms and other resources. As a reflective practitioner account, the article draws on the experience of the authors in higher education internationalisation as well as on the collective experience of a community of practice of the International Education Association of South Africa, which represents the majority of public universities in the country.
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