Prime minister Scott Morrison confirmed plans were being considered for the safe return of international students “in a very controlled setting” for those who were pre-approved to study at particular institutions, although he did not specify which ones.

“It is important that our hard-won success in limiting the spread of Covid-19 isn’t jeopardised”

Announcing the move after a national cabinet meeting, Morrison said that students would only be accepted with appropriate quarantine measures.

He also made it clear that if the states and territories wanted international students to return, they would have to “open up borders for Australians”.

South Australia is to open its borders on July 20, but Western Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland and Tasmania have not yet set a date to lift restrictions.

“We’ve received some very, I think, well thought-through proposals from states as to how [bringing in students] can be done,” Morrisson said, highlighting the Australian Capital Territory as having done particularly well on this matter.

“This is something that I’m sure we would all welcome happening again, but it has to be done with the appropriate quarantine entry arrangements and biosecurity, and all of those matters [are] being addressed.”

In a report by Canberra Times, ACT chief minister, Andrew Barr said the territory was well-placed to manage the first international student arrivals.

He said that students would be required to follow a two-week quarantine period on arrival and go through health screening and Covid-19 testing procedures.

Barr also noted students would be arriving in their hundreds, rather than thousands, and more groups would be considered if the first pilot group was successful.

Universities across the country have been lobbying for the return of international students, who generated a record $15.9 billion in tuition fees in 2018-19 for the higher education sector.

Universities Australia chief executive, Catriona Jackson, welcomed the announcement and said the safety and welfare of the community is paramount.

“It is important that our hard-won success in limiting the spread of Covid-19 isn’t jeopardised. That is why a trial for the safe return of students is a sensible approach,” she said.

“Universities Australia has been talking to the federal government about an overarching framework for a safe return for some time. It is good to see progress today with specific pilot proposals under consideration.

“The gradual reintroduction of international students into Australia requires careful planning with coordination between universities, governments across jurisdictions, health authorities and other key stakeholders,” Jackson added.

“A pilot is an important first step to a larger-scale return”

She also said that a trial will rigorously test the controlled entry of international students and will include robust quarantine arrangements put in place by state and territory governments.

“International students form a vital part of Australia’s social and economic fabric. The return of students will be crucial to reactivating businesses and creating jobs across the country. A pilot is an important first step to a larger-scale return of our valued international friends in the future.

“International students understand that they have to play their part, by obeying the rules on health and hygiene practices. They are a good bet as Covid-safe citizens,” she added.

The international education sector contributed AUD$39 billion to the Australian economy in 2019 and supports 259,000 jobs across the nation.

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