At a recent briefing on the return of international students the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia released an assessment showing that current policy settings put in place by the federal and state and territory governments make the return of international students in large numbers unlikely until at least early 2022.

“It can be reasonably assumed that the immediate demand for students looking to travel to Australia exceeds 235,000”

The paper stated “it can be reasonably assumed that the immediate demand for students looking to travel to Australia exceeds 235,000” and with current flight caps, and mandatory hotel quarantine for overseas arrivals it is doubtful the capacity exists to effectively manage their return and quarantine requirements.

The nationwide cap on international arrivals is 6,362 people per week which is subject to arbitrary reduction by state and territory governments, and around 40,000 Australian citizens registered as wanting to return home.

“Under current policy settings, it is only after these registered Australians have returned that facilitation the arrival of international students in large numbers could be considered for a return to Australia, and again, in line with arrivals caps – this is likely to be some months away,” according to the paper.

Another hurdle is the limited number of places available in the hotel quarantine system which is mandatory for all overseas arrivals.

It is estimated that to facilitate the return of all students in a short period of time approximately 3.3 million hotel room nights would be required for them to complete the mandatory 14 days of quarantine. This is beyond the current capacity of the system.

The paper also pointed to the vaccination program of citizens and the potential options of making vaccination a mandatory entry requirement for overseas arrivals as potential barriers to a mass return of international students.

ITECA says it will continue to undertake advocacy to support the sector and work with other stakeholders to help secure financial support for the sector including lobbying for the waiving Australian government fees and charges levied on the international education sector through to broader financial support measures.

As part of this advocacy ITECA’s CEO Troy Williams, Phil Honeywood from International Education Association of Australia, English Australia’s Brett Blacker, and Simon Finn from Independent Higher Education Australia, will hold a series of meetings with the Education, Finance, Trade and Immigration ministers.

They will urge government to implement a range of measures including extending the JobKeeper financial support for the international education sector beyond March and undertake a proactive campaign to reassure students who are stranded offshore that they haven’t been forgotten and urging them to stick with Australia as their preferred international study destination.

Further evidence of the extent of the economic impact of the pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions has been revealed this week with the Australian Bureau of Statistics reporting the international education sector lost almost $9 billion in revenue.

According the ABS in 2020, the total value of education exports, which includes tuition fees and spending on things such as rent, food, travel, clothing and other costs, was $31.5 billion, down $8.8 billion dollars on the year before.

Those losses are expected to increase further in 2021 due to no significant numbers of new international students coming into Australia since March 2020.

Meanwhile a petition with in excess of 17,000 signatures asking for international students to be given an exemption to return to Australia to study has been presented to the House of Representatives and is awaiting a reply by the minister.

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