International students ‘could return in July’: Morrison

Internal border controls could stymie pilot entry proposals, Australian PM warns

June 12, 2020
Woman in airport
Source: iStock

Australia could open its doors to international students as early as next month, but such arrangements may be contingent on states and territories eliminating their internal border controls, prime minister Scott Morrison has suggested.

Mr Morrison told reporters that he expected international students to be granted entry “on a pilot basis”. They would be admitted under “pre-approved plans for particular institutions, worked up between federal authorities and state and territory authorities”.

“This is something that I’m sure we would all welcome happening again,” he said. “But it has to be done with the appropriate quarantine entry arrangements and biosecurity.”

Australia’s universities face a collective revenue shortfall of some A$5 billion (£2.7 billion) from the pandemic, chiefly because of a slump in international enrolments. With social distancing measures being eased across the country, universities and colleges have pinned their hopes on the relaxation of border restrictions.

Mr Morrison said that while there was “still a lot of work to do”, the government had received “well thought-through proposals from states, particularly here in the ACT [Australian Capital Territory]”.

The Australian National University (ANU) said it was developing a pilot programme to “safely return our students”, working closely with the ACT government and the University of Canberra.

“We’ve missed them and it’s been tough on them being away from the city and campus,” said ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt.

University of Canberra boss Paddy Nixon said international students brought “vibrancy” to his institution, which was located “in one of the safest cities in one of the safest nations in the world”.

While the ACT may be in a position to admit international students sooner rather than later, institutions in most other jurisdictions may not be so fortunate. South Australia, the Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia have all closed their borders to interstate travel.

Mr Morrison indicated that these restrictions could rule out the return of international students. “If someone can’t come to your state from Sydney, then someone can’t come to your state from Singapore,” he said.

Universities Australia said it had been in discussions with the federal government about an “overarching framework” for students’ return. “It is good to see progress today with specific pilot proposals under consideration,” said chief executive Catriona Jackson.

She said a pilot was an “important first step” to a larger-scale return. “Any trial will rigorously test the controlled entry of international students and will include robust quarantine arrangements.”

Representative body Independent Higher Education Australia, which has proposed its own pilot scheme, said the number of international students deferring their study plans had risen sixfold in April compared to the same month last year.

“These students are awaiting the resumption of face-to-face teaching in Australia,” Said CEO Simon Finn.

He said international students needed to be allowed back soon to avoid squandering the economic benefits of international education. “The industry needs to be operational in time for the student commencement period in early 2021, to ensure Australia remains competitive with northern hemisphere education intakes later in the year.”

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