Indonesian International Students in Australia during the COVID-19-Pandemic: Coming Out Stronger?




Covid-19, International Students, People-to-People Relations, Scholarships, Soft Power


Australia is a sought-after destination for international students, including from countries of the Global South such as Indonesia. Prior to the pandemic, the tertiary education of international students was its second largest export. At the onset of the pandemic, Australia’s Prime Minister told international students they should return home immediately, warning them that they would not be supported by the government if they chose to stay. Throughout 2020 and 2021, Australian media outlets offered shocking reports and images of international students who had lost their homes and were queuing at soup kitchens. Experts feared that these images and the overall treatment of international students would do long-lasting damage not only to the education sector but also to Australia’s people-to-people relations overseas.

In this article, we explore the destinies of postgraduate students from Indonesia during the pandemic in Australia. As Indonesia’s closest neighbor, Australia is the preferred destination for Indonesian students studying abroad and Australia has targeted Indonesia as a growth market in recent years. Based on qualitative interview data, we offer a picture of how this cohort of international students “muddled through” the pandemic. We ask what damage may have been done by the Australian government’s closure of its international borders and strict pandemic restrictions to its reputation as a welcoming country and center of educational excellence. What consequences might there be for this vital Indonesia–Australia relationship, in particular, and for the future of student and broader university engagement between the two countries? Our findings show a much more optimistic outlook than expected.

Author Biographies

Antje Missbach, Bielefeld University

Antje Missbach is Professor of Sociology at Bielefeld University, Germany, specializing in global and transnational migration and mobility. She is the author of Troubled Transit: Asylum seekers stuck in Indonesia (ISEAS, 2015) and The Criminalisation of People Smuggling in Indonesia and Australia: Asylum out of Reach (Routledge, 2022). 

Jemma Purdey, Monash University

Jemma Purdey is Adjunct Fellow at the Australia-Indonesia Centre, Monash University. She researches and writes on Indonesian politics and the Australia-Indonesia relationship. She is co-author with Antje Missbach and Dave McRae of State and Society in Indonesia (Lynne Rienner, Boulder Co., 2020). 


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