Australia Covid-19 surge threatens plans for international student return
NSW has also put on hold its plan to allow international students back in to the country, after the state government announced a pilot plan for limited-phased return of international students in June.
However, the latest lockdown led pause in the rolling out of this pilot initiative, which might mean that the much anticipated arrival of international students in Australia gets pushed further down the line — not welcome news for thousands of students studying remotely, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to come to Australia to continue their studies.
Chief executive officer of UNSW Global and pro vice-chancellor (International), UNSW Sydney, Laurie Pearcey, told The PIE,”UNSW continues to work closely with the state and federal governments on the safe return of international students to Australia.”
Australia has seen a drastic fall in the overall number of international students enrolled in its universities in 2021. At current rates, the country risks losing its competitiveness in the international education sector, as students start looking at alternative countries.
The country has incurred a loss of nearly $6 billion to its economy, as international student enrolments have gone down by more than 100,000, in the last financial year alone.
“We’ll continue to work with states and territories on proposals to return international students when conditions allow”
While education exports fell by 21.4% in 2020, international student commencements for 2021 have gone down by nearly 20%, compared to 2020.
Australia’s minister for Education and Youth, Alan Tudge has said, “We’ll continue to work with states and territories on proposals to return international students when conditions allow.”
Tudge added that the government’s priority is to get the spread of the Delta variant under grips, and that it will be up to NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian to choose when to resume the pilot. Her government paused the plan on July 13.
The impact of this slump is not only eminent in the form of loss of revenue, but also in the form of staff redundancies across major Australian universities. One such was La Trobe in Melbourne which announced 200 redundancies following a $165 million fall in revenue.
Furthermore, the impact is already being felt by communities and local businesses, as international students form a major part of the workforce for local businesses across Australia.
Despite federal government’s assurances, Australia remains the slowest among OECD countries to administer Covid-19 vaccines to its adult population. As of now, less than 16% of the country’s population has been vaccinated and it may take another seven months before the current national goal for vaccinations is met.
Prime minister Scott Morrison has also indicated that the country will have to vaccinate 80% of its adult population before it can consider reopening its border. Australian public policy think tank, the Grattan Institute has suggested this may only be possible by the year end.
It is also being argued that Australia needs to transform its approach to managing Covid-19 — that waiting for cases to come down to zero is no longer practical. The country should instead be proactive and take a cue from the strategies adopted by other forward-looking democratic countries, in adopting an approach of a cautious and phased opening up to the rest of the world.
A cautious and phased opening up of its borders to international students and other essential travellers, along with exploring a vaccine-visa regime, might be the options that Australia’s federal government may like to consider going forward.
It can also consider moving on from a Fortress Australia mindset, once more of Australia’s population has been vaccinated.