ACT to be first to welcome back international students in pilot program
The ACT will lead a pilot program for reintroducing international students into Australia after coronavirus travel bans barred thousands from studying on campus.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said students could be welcomed as early as next month on a pilot basis only for people who were pre-approved to study at particular institutions. Mr Morrison said students would only be accepted with appropriate quarantine entry arrangements and biosecurity measures.
“We’ve received some very, I think, well thought-through proposals from states as to how this can be done, particularly here in the ACT,” he said.
The Prime Minister said he made it clear that states and territories that had border controls in place for other Australians would not be in the position to accept international students. ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the territory was well-placed to manage the first international student arrivals. “We’ve done a lot of work with the universities over the last six weeks or so to have a really well-developed proposal that’s been before the Commonwealth,” he said.
“[Mr Morrison] described it in national cabinet as an excellent proposal. So I’m confident that given we have not closed our borders to other Australians that we are the best-placed jurisdiction to manage that first international student pilot back into Australia.”
Mr Barr said the pilot would follow similar protocols to that of the repatriation flights which helped Australian citizens return from other countries after international travel bans were put in place. Students would be required to follow a two-week quarantine period on arrival and go through health screening and COVID-19 testing procedures. Mr Barr said students would be arriving in their hundreds, rather than thousands and more groups would be considered if the first pilot group was successful.
ACT universities welcomed the progress on the pilot program. Australian National University vice-chancellor, Professor Brian Schmidt, said he looked forward to having students back in Canberra. “We’ve missed them and it’s been tough on them being away from the city and campus – and from a community they contribute to substantially. “Our focus is maintaining the safety of the ACT community and wellbeing of our students as they transition back to campus.” Vice-Chancellor and president of the University of Canberra, Paddy Nixon, said Canberra was one of the safest cities in one of the safest nations in the world.
“We are missing all of our international students and the vibrancy they bring to our tight-knit UC community-our campus is not the same without them,” he said. Australian universities have experienced huge revenue losses since the start of the pandemic with a drop in full-fee paying international students contributing to the decline. ANU reported a $225 million shortfall while University of Canberra reported a $33 million loss for 2020.
Universities Australia figures show the international education sector contributed $39 billion to the Australian economy in 2019 and supported 259,000 jobs. Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said international students would be crucial for reactivating businesses and creating jobs. “A pilot is an important first step to a larger-scale return of our valued international friends in the future,” she said. “International students understand that they have to play their part, by obeying the rules on health and hygiene practices.”