Australian state gets green light to fly in overseas students

Modest programme spells hope for tens of thousands stranded offshore

June 18, 2021
Plane takes off
Source: iStock

Canberra has authorised an Australian state to fly in international students, opening the way for regular arrivals for the first time in 15 months.

South Australia has obtained approval to accept up to 160 students at a time and quarantine them in an aviation training school in Adelaide’s north, where they will undergo daily Covid testing.

South Australian premier Steven Marshall said that the programme met “all the necessary protocols required by the federal government”. It had been signed off by chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier, and would not detract from quarantine places earmarked for returning Australian citizens.

Mr Marshall stressed the economic benefits that overseas students generated, not only to educational institutions but also retail, hospitality and tourism operators. “International education is a significant part of South Australia’s economy, contributing over A$2 billion [£1.1 billion] in 2019,” he said.

“International students add so much to South Australia’s multicultural fabric along with the clear economic benefits, with every three students leading to the creation of one job. In 2019, almost 20,000 jobs were underpinned by international education, which is massive for our state.”

The programme will barely dent the backlog of an estimated 150,000 overseas students currently stranded offshore. But it has symbolic importance as a demonstration of the feasibility of bringing students back, raising hopes for many who are considering switching to other countries.

There have been no coordinated arrivals of foreign students since Australia closed its borders in March 2020, apart from a single charter flight that delivered 63 students to Darwin in November.

Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, is awaiting federal approval of its own plan to bring in an initial 250 students in a fortnight.

The federal competition regulator has given the proposal a boost by exempting 14 New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory universities from rules barring them from collaborating on travel arrangements. “This interim authorisation will allow universities…to start working together immediately to implement a fair and efficient system to get these international students back,” said Rod Sims, chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The concession allows the universities to agree how they will allocate flights and quarantine places, based on their 2019 enrolments. Each university decides independently which of its students will have the opportunity to return, with priority going to those who need to complete practical or on-site components of their courses.

The universities will appoint a joint travel agent to source flights and organise travel, with students booking and paying for their flights.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

Let’s hope these students go straight on to their uni and don’t have to do a ‘Pathways’ course with sharks like Navitas.

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