Work, inflation, rising rent: These restrictions are affecting international students

  • young student
Published on 2022-11-28 at 14:00 by Asaël Häzaq
One thing is for sure! Everyday life has become very challenging since the Covid pandemic. Furthermore, the energy crisis and inflation have only made things more stressful for international students. Finding a job to meet the increasing expenses has become essential. But how does one deal with the balance between studies and work? How does work fit into the life of an international student?

The impact of inflation on international students' budgets 

When put together, courses, work materials, rent, transportation, food, not to mention the unexpected, studying is expensive, even more so when you do it in a foreign country. In Australia, a semester of study costs between $10,000 and $13,000. This is slightly higher than in New Zealand ($8,000 to $12,500), Israel ($2,200 to $8,500), Japan ($1,500 to $2,500), or South Africa ($2,000 to $4,000). In the United States, prices rose to over $15,000 per semester. These figures are only averages and are far from reflecting the actual situation of all international students. They can vary from simple to triple depending on the chosen institution, the curriculum, and the academic level (bachelor's, master's, doctorate). In addition to these costs, there is the rent, which ranges between 800 and 1500 dollars per month, depending on the country. Adding to these are the cost of food, transportation, and other expenses, which are constantly increasing due to inflation.

This is a double whammy for both local and international students. The global health crisis has deprived them of jobs, and by extension, of crucial income to support their studies and life abroad. For example, international students at Charles Darwin University in Australia are in dire straits. Inflation in this part of the country is skyrocketing. In August, rents rose by 16% in Darwin compared to 4% in the rest of the country. The government has granted a $250 subsidy for Australian citizens, excluding international students who, hence, fell into extreme precariousness. Even with several jobs paid at minimum wage, it has been impossible for them to make ends meet. This situation has had an impact on their morale and their academic results. Student unions are denouncing the government's decisions, as they feel that tuition fees are still too high and inflation is rampant.

The same is true in Canada and France, where students report sacrificing their food budget to buy textbooks. In France, the cost of living for a non-scholarship student has risen by 7%. To save money, some students resort to commuting more than an hour away from their place of study. The rhythm of life, between attending classes, working and studying is becoming difficult to sustain.

The role of work in the life of an international student

In the spring of 2022, The Varsity, a University of Toronto newspaper, published an investigation revealing the hidden face of work for international students. Although essential, student jobs are often too insecure to maintain a good standard of living, especially since international students are limited to 20 hours of work a week during school periods. Limited to part-time work, their applications do not always appeal to employers. Akaash, an international student, says, "Many companies don't hire us because they know we can only work part-time."

Like many of his peers, Akaash turned to home delivery. But a delivery person for UberEats, for instance, has to ride his bike over dozens of miles for less than $10 Canadian per hour. It is a physical job with harsh conditions and low wages. Other international students work in the restaurant industry, under similarly difficult conditions.

What are governments' stand on this issue?

In Australia, there are talks about striking the "right balance" between study and work. Relaxed earlier this year, working hours for international students are expected to be capped again in July 2023. But by allowing students to work more hours (they were limited to 40/week before the relaxation), the government was actually seeking to curb acute labor shortages, not improve student living conditions. Aware that an accumulation of hours is detrimental to schooling, it is now looking for the "right balance". Will this mean more aid for international students? For the moment, the government has not mentioned this subject.

It's been a while since a student job is no longer a mere discovery of the corporate world abroad. It has become a component of a student's budget from the very beginning of the expatriation project. Knowing that they will find a job, students focus more on their school choice than on the job offers in the foreign country. Covid, however, has changed the game. In addition to this, the economic crisis has worsened an already unbearable situation for many international students. Finding a job has therefore become crucial for them; it is a prerequisite for continuing their education. But under what conditions?

Scholarships for international students

Can scholarships support an entire course of study abroad? The answer is no. Aware of the pressure on students, which is even greater in the case of international ones who are often alone in their host country, universities say they are doing everything they can. The University of Ottawa claims to have one of the "most generous" scholarship programs. Toronto, Cambridge, Oxford, New York and Dartmouth also offer grants for international students. In Europe, the Erasmus program aims at increasing student mobility for disadvantaged international students. Initiated by the European Commission, Erasmus Mundus scholarships allow eligible international students to study in Europe in participating institutions. Other grants exist at the state level, like Eiffel scholarships in France (for masters and doctoral students), DAAD scholarships in Germany, Slovak Government scholarships (Slovakia), etc.

Of course, these grants do not cover the full cost of one or more years of study abroad. Working is still a necessity. Students would like to be paid more for their work, especially when they are doing the same tasks as regular employees. But they only find out about these differences when they are there. Generally, students do not choose their host country based on the availability of small jobs or working conditions. They primarily compare universities according to their aspirations. Small jobs are believed to be available everywhere, like in fast-food restaurants, hotels, etc. This statement is less true nowadays. Far from the stereotype of the vacationing student enjoying life abroad, international students are struggling to reconcile their studies and work.

Useful links:

European Union: Erasmus Mundus Scholarships

France: Eiffel Scholarships;  INSEAD Business School International Scholarships

Belgium: VLIR-UOS Training and Masters Scholarships

Germany: DAAD scholarships

Czech Republic: Charles University Faculty of Social Sciences Development Scholarships

Slovakia: Slovak Government Scholarships

Canada: Global Affairs Canada

Japan: ADB Japan scholarship program (for nationals of Asian Development Bank member countries)

USA: Dag Hammarskjöld Journalism Fellowships (for students from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean);  Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders (for students from Africa)

United Kingdom: Commonwealth Master's Scholarships (for nationals of Commonwealth member countries)