PhD Student in Australia Left Unable to Undertake & Monitor Fieldwork In-Person

It was quite challenging for many students around the globe to study through an unusual year, such as 2020 was, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Various surveys have revealed that students have experienced increased stress levels, anxiety, and depression since the pandemic outbreak. Almost all of the universities worldwide shifted to remote learning, and many students had to study in different time zones.

After several COVID-19 vaccines were approved, many world’s countries begun to relax measures for higher education while some others continued to impose more rigid restrictions, such as Australia, Erudera.com reports.

Studying amid pandemic was also very demanding for the PhD student from Bangladesh, Zeenatul Islam, who is pursuing her doctoral degree in Economics in Western Australia, specializing in agriculture and the environment. In 2020-21, she enrolled at the School of Economics, Finance, and Property, hopeful of completing her studies by 2023-24.

Her fieldwork is expected to start off in September 2021, yet, due to a travel ban imposed by the university authority until further notice, she will not be able to undertake and monitor fieldwork in person, which she says is worrisome. Instead, she is tasked to conduct enumerator recruitment and their training online.

However, Zeenatul is concerned that there will be implications for her research as it will take a lot of time to clean data. Due to her research being entirely quantitative, data quality is of particular importance.

“As I am not able to visit study area in person, I am concerned about data quality. Health safety of interviewees and interviewers will remain an issue obviously. I also anticipated that survey would be more time-consuming in this current situation. This could affect my analysis plan and timeline,” Zeenatul told Erudera.

In order to be allowed to travel, she needs an exemption from the University Vice-Chancellor, and she is not certain whether she can ever get it. Hence, her supervisors advised her to stay in Australia and monitor fieldwork online. There will be a research team headed by a university faculty in the study area, which will be supervised by Zeenatul as well as the team head.

“I worked earlier with farmers and the selected enumerators. Yet designs are different this time,” she said.

Although the university where she pursues studies has provided psychological and financial support, including counseling and housing scholarships, Zeenatul said that it was difficult to study amid the pandemic due to less peer communication and networking, leading to difficulties in sharing ideas and learning from peers. She also highlighted that the psychological stress about family and friends back home has affected students’ concentration.

“Working from home was difficult and progress was sometimes quite slow. I could not maintain my daily sleeping and household routine,” Zeenatul added.

As per the university moving to online learning, Zeenatul said that she did not face any difficulties in lessons and discussions held online, adding that she has mostly received face-to-face meetings and discussions.

“I did not find any difficulty in lessons and discussions online (online discussions happened four/five times in my case), the reason being controlled COVID-19 situation in Western Australia in general,” she pointed out.

In the interview with Erudera, she mentioned the educational tools that she has been using while studying remotely, which include: university online library, google scholar, journal websites, government websites, and google search engine. Moreover, she said that she used Turnitin to check the originality of assignments, Blackboard to upload assignments, and Cisco Webex for online meetings and webinars.

Despite Australian states being quite restrictive amid the pandemic, international students in the country have been provided with state assistance. Zeenatul said that she has received health insurance services, health safety measures and tax return assistance in time.

Large numbers of international students planning to attend an Australian university remain outside the country due to the border closure, with Australia continuing to struggle to bring international students into the country again.

A spokesperson for the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills, and Employment told Erudera earlier this year that Australia closing the borders has been critical to the country’s success in curbing the spread of the Coronavirus, adding that bringing Australians home was one of the government’s priorities.

“International students are an important part of the Australian community and will be welcomed back to Australia when conditions allow. The Australian government is working with states and territories to support international student arrivals when conditions allow,” the spokesperson had said.

210,000 fewer international students have been enrolled in Australian higher education during 2021. Only 360 international students entered Australia in January this year, while one year earlier, in 2020, 91,250 international students arrived in the country.

It has been reported that if Australia keeps its travel restrictions in place, it risks having 300,000 fewer international students in the country during 2021. Most recently, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that NSW has decided to pause the plans over the return of international students until lockdown ends.

According to data, international students contributed more than $40 billion to the Australian economy during 2019.

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