Frustration mounts as Singaporean students unable to return to Australia for uni

Third-year student at the University of Queensland Sun Qing (left), and neuroscience masters student at Australian National University Nurulhuda Azman.
Third-year student at the University of Queensland Sun Qing (left), and neuroscience masters student at Australian National University Nurulhuda Azman.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF SUN QING, COURTESY OF NURULHUDA AZMAN

SINGAPORE - When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, Ms Velda Lim raced back to Singapore last March, thinking that she would be able to return to Melbourne soon.

But Australia shut its international borders that same month to contain the spread of Covid-19.

The first-year University of Melbourne medicine student was rejected repeatedly when she applied for an exemption to travel restrictions since last October.

She said: "There was so much uncertainty so I couldn't make a definite plan this year. I thought, 'Do I apply for a job or start packing to go back?'

"There were several times I felt down at the start of this year, and the uncertainty about returning was rather draining."

Earlier this month, Australia announced it will extend its year-long international border closure by at least three months to June 17, 2021.

Forced to take a gap year, Ms Lim, 22, postponed her three-year clinical attachment at Melbourne's Northern Hospital, which is a requirement as she progresses in her course.

She worked part-time in a bubble tea shop and will be starting a stint as a Covid-19 vaccination assistant for a year.

"Without doing the clinical attachment, I'm unable to meet my degree's requirements to complete this year. I am still bummed about not being in the same batch as my closest friends (in the course) but I'll just try to make the best out of this year," she said.

Ms Sun Qing, 22, a third-year student at The University of Queensland, said her heart sank when she was not able to attend physical classes for her clinical exercise physiology course that cost around $36,000 a year.

She also had to pay around $3,600 for five months of rent despite not being there.

Online classes also proved tough, as her physiology course involved hands-on learning, practical tests and exercises.

"During one online class about executing different exercise testing methods, I had to use my own made-up equipment because I did not have the set in physical class. I found the test still confusing now and I don't know if I'm doing it right," she said.

The remote learning has also been a struggle for Ms Nurulhuda Azman, 22, who started the first semester of her neuroscience masters course at the Australian National University this February.

"Being unable to attend practicals, it's difficult to visualise the experimental procedures and write the relevant reports. Some online classes would have a simulation and we would insert values and get hypothetical data from it. But it's not the same as a lab experience... It's just words and raw data," she said.