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In November 2019, I was honoured to be elected to the role of President of Study Cairns. Having spent the past 25 years working in the education tourism industry, I embraced the role with enthusiasm and a vision to build on the legacy of our previous board, taking the organisation to even higher levels than it had previously achieved.

Before Christmas, we had compiled a clear strategy that would see us forming new international partnerships, promoting the incredible education opportunities available in our region and increasing our international student market.

When I reflect back on this time, it appears surreal. Instead of flying overseas promoting our region, our role has been about ensuring the wellbeing of the 1700 students who stayed in Cairns during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

These students had either already paid for their studies, so were not in a financial position to return to their home countries, were unable to return home as their country borders were closed, or they didn’t realise the extraordinary events that were to come. And if we are honest, I think none of us did.

Our #CairnsCares initiative has been extremely successful. This has involved us feeding the crisis students in our region, helping students connect with the community and with each other. Our team at the Student Hub and other organisations, such as Anglicare, worked around the clock ensuring all international students were supported.

We were very grateful to Study QLD for stepping in several weeks into the initiative by providing funding towards our Student Hub store and the meals we were providing. Until then we had worked with local restaurants such as Ochre and Rattle n Hum, as well as Eat Real to provide meals, but it was a lot of work to pull together and put extra pressure on local businesses that were already feeling the impacts of the pandemic.

I am proud to say a direct outcome of the initiative has been a reduction of support sessions by our social workers since launching. We have some incredible letters of thanks from our students, and this region should be very proud of the support they provided to our international student community.

International education has been decimated, but we are a formidable group and are working hard to ensure the ongoing viability of our industry.

This industry generates $160M to our region each year, and unlike many other industries, the dollars remain local.

Behind the scenes we are advocating for a secure corridor to enable International students to come into Cairns and quarantine for 2 weeks, so they can continue their studies. We are also pushing for a relaxation of visa restrictions enabling students to study online while they wait for borders to reopen, and ensuring we remain connected to agents and schools that have ongoing relationships with our region.

The International tourism industry is an extremely successful, life-changing industry, and while COVID-19 has been disruptive, we have the passion and drive to ensure we see this through. We’ll come out of this, still providing exceptional education opportunities in the most incredible destination in the world.

Written by Jules Steer