First proposed in October as part of a broader plan to digitise passenger arrival cards, the idea was again raised at a meeting of federal ministers and international education experts who gathered in the nation’s capital for talks on the future of the sector.

“Australia remains a destination of choice for international students”

The Council for International Education, made up of six federal government ministers whose portfolios include education, trade, multicultural and foreign affairs, employment, industry and science and technology, along with 11 education experts, met earlier this month to plan the rebuild and strengthening of the international education sector which is currently in crisis due to the pandemic.

The council also discussed strategies to demonstrate that Australian is “open for business” to international students and is an effective, trusted global partner of choice in international education.

Billions of dollars and thousands of jobs have been wiped from the higher education sector as a result of Covid-19, while governments and institutions have also come under fire for their treatment of international students both stranded in Australia and locked out of the country due to border closures.

The council acknowledged the challenges caused by the protection measures such as Australia’s ongoing international border closure, but said hope is emerging that Australia will again be able to welcome international students in 2021.

It is confident Australia’s track record will help in the recovery and has welcomed the plans already in motion to bring students back.

“Cooperation between the Commonwealth, state and territory governments and the sector have advanced plans for the return of international students, when health conditions and quarantine capacity allow,” it said.

Minister for Education Dan Tehan echoed the council’s confidence.

“While Covid-19 has caused significant disruption to our international education sector, Australia remains a destination of choice for international students because of the high-quality of the education and lifestyle we offer, combined with our strong health response to the pandemic,” he said.

“Australia’s latest economic data and the development of Covid vaccines are further reasons to be optimistic about the future of international education.”

So far only one university has welcomed back a small number of students, Charles Darwin University bringing 63 students into the Northern Territory under a pilot program approved by the territory and federal government, with South Australia receiving approval to bring a limited number of international students back in early 2021.

The council is also looking at longer term strategies, commencing consultation on a new Australian Strategy for International Education, led by its expert members from February 2021, with delivery of the new strategy expected mid-year.

“We must be prepared for more focus on offshore, online and blended learning”

Tehan said it reaffirmed the federal government’s commitment to working with the education sector to develop the long term plan, and the council agreed Australia must be ready to seize future opportunities by charting a path for the international education sector for the next 10 years across education, research and training.

“We must be prepared for more focus on offshore, online and blended learning, and a growth in new models of delivery – such as micro-credentials,” he said.

The communique from the council’s fifth meeting is available here.

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