Perth campuses fret as reopening of border to students delayed

Western Australia defers return of quarantine-free travel in response to Omicron variant as eastern states open up

January 21, 2022
Perth, Australia - March 15, 2020 People queuing at Coles grocery store during the Coronavirus crisis
Source: iStock

Universities in Australia’s most isolated state risk falling behind eastern rivals after the full reopening of the border to international students was further delayed, according to a vice-chancellor.

Travellers were set to have been allowed to enter Western Australia from 5 February providing that they were double-vaccinated, but the state premier, Mark McGowan, has postponed this in light of the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

On 21 January, Mr McGowan said that anyone in arriving in Western Australia would need to be triple-vaccinated, to quarantine for 14 days and to take a series of coronavirus tests to ensure that they are negative.

Although an expanded list of travellers will be exempted from some off these requirements, international students do not make the cut.

The move comes as states in eastern Australia open up once more to international students and as the federal government seeks to encourage their return by offering to waive returning learners’ visa fees if they arrive in the next eight weeks.

Mr McGowan did not provide a new date for when quarantine-free travel into Western Australia would be permitted.

He said that allowing “hundreds or thousands of Omicron-infected people to fly straight into Perth from 5 February with no testing, no quarantine and no public health measures would cause a flood of Covid across our state”.

Jane den Hollander, interim vice-chancellor of Perth’s Murdoch University, said that her institution had been planning for international students’ return from 5 February but that it would now need to “revisit our plans and timelines”.

“It is important we work with the government to be able to welcome international students back to Western Australia as soon as possible – we are diminished without them. Any delay will provide universities in the eastern states a competitive advantage, and put Western Australia’s universities on the back foot, not just this year, but for many years to come,” Professor den Hollander said.

She added that international students were “integral to a diversified state economy” and that ensuring students were “informed of changes to entry is essential to confidence and to ensuring safe and secure students commencing their studies”.

Strict travel restrictions that have been in place in Western Australia for nearly two years have kept levels of coronavirus there very low but have left the state very isolated from the rest of the country and the world.

So far, fewer than one in three Western Australians has received a booster jab to protect them from Covid-19.

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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