Quarantine requirements dropped for Canberra universities

While federal agreement will be needed, Australian Capital Territory announcement boosts hopes of students’ return for 2022 academic year

October 22, 2021
Sunset on Canberra City, autumn, Brindabella hills
Source: iStock

A third Australian jurisdiction has signalled its intention to allow the untrammelled return of international students, with the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) vowing to admit fully immunised tertiary students in time for the start of the 2022 academic year in February.

Chief minister Andrew Barr said that while students would need to adhere to federal government vaccination and testing requirements for international arrivals, those entering the ACT would not be required to quarantine.

“Higher education institutions provide a considerable social and economic contribution to Canberra,” he said. “The return of international students will be very welcome news for our city.”

The announcement comes amid easing of restrictions across Canberra, after the territory revealed that 80 per cent of its population over 11 years old was now fully vaccinated. The government expects that close to 99 per cent of eligible people will have had two jabs by the end of November.

Australia’s biggest states of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria intend to discard quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated overseas arrivals from the beginning of November, with more than 70 per cent of locals over the age of 15 now fully immunised – over 80 per cent in NSW’s case.

However, the federal government controls the country’s external borders and prime minister Scott Morrison has made it clear that, for the time being, only Australian residents will be able to sidestep quarantine requirements.

There are doubts over whether airports yet have automated systems capable of validating the vaccination status of large cohorts of travellers, in any case.

NSW and Victoria have outlined plans to bring in limited numbers of foreign students from December, with the NSW programme already endorsed by the commonwealth.

Academics welcomed the ACT announcement. “It’s great to have clarity,” said Australian National University vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt. “As soon as the borders open, our students can come straight home to campus. We will continue to work with the commonwealth on arrangements to open the borders to students as soon as Australia safely can.”

The University of Canberra’s Paddy Nixon said that the return of international students would provide “huge flow-on benefits” to the wider community. “As our economy starts to rebound, we will need [their] talents,” he said. “We all benefit from the vibrancy they bring to our campus and our city.”

The acting rector of UNSW Canberra, Harvi Sidhu, said that overseas students’ return would enable “valuable research to continue, including defence research and capability development which is a key focus of the university”.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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