Despite strict border closures imposed by the federal government, New South Wales plans to bring international students back into their campuses within the next few months.
State treasurer Dominic Perrottet is optimistic that they can welcome students back as early as semester two, or around August, in most NSW universities. The plan is to allow returning students to quarantine in a purpose-built, 600-bed student accommodation site for 14 days. The student arrivals are counted separately and will not take away slots from returning Australians and international arrivals.
“It involves chartered flights rather than taking commercial seats off returning Australians,” said Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia. “It involves an alternative quarantine setting to hotels, which is what the prime minister is keen on.”
To start, NSW will start bringing in small numbers to see whether the model works. The plan has received the OK from the Department of Premier and Cabinet, and had the site inspected.
The state is keen on bringing back the students, stemming from the concern that international students may look elsewhere, potentially harming the international education industry in the state and the entire country.
While the plan is in place, it will still need the final approval of Alan Tudge, Australia’s federal education minister. Based on a recent interview, PM Scott Morrison shared the Commonwealth is already aware of the plan.
During an interview with Sydney radio 2GB, Morrison said, “They’re still a long way from landing this I should stress. But it’s something that we’re encouraging of but it’s got to be done safely and we’ve got to be able to do it in a way that doesn’t risk the great success we’ve had.”
International students are a significant source of revenue for Australia, bringing about $40 billion annually, including retail and relevant expenses of staying in Australia. In NSW, estimates show that foreign students contribute as much as $14.5 billion per year.
While borders are closed, several students enrol in Australian universities and attend online classes from their home countries. Still, it can have adverse effects on the economy. A recent report from Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute found that online learning for overseas students can potentially lose $20 billion of economic benefit.
It also doesn’t help that only 7% of students studying in an Australian university were willing to complete their studies online, with the majority expressing willingness to enrol if they get assurance of face-to-face transition. In the long run, these online learners will eventually go elsewhere. Currently, Australia can lose the students to the US, the UK, and Canada markets as they are more welcoming for international students.
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