Australian student accommodation providers offer charter flights, quarantine capacity

Australian student accommodation
Could student accommodation in Victoria be a possible quarantine facility for international students, thus facilitating their arrival? Source: William West/AFP

Australian student accommodation providers are lobbying the Victorian government to let them charter flights for students and run their own quarantine system, reported ABC News. Scape operations manager Jenna Weber was quoted saying by the portal that many of their buildings have single studio apartments and would be perfect to be used as quarantine. Scape is the largest student accommodation provider in Australia. “If international students could quarantine with us, it won’t bottleneck those Australian residents coming back,” she said.

Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews said on Thursday (January 14) that “bespoke” quarantine facilities were an option his government would consider. “It would have to be run to [COVID-19 quarantine Victoria] standards. It’s very important we have that done properly, and that would apply no matter who the group was coming in. We can’t have every hotel room in the city being guarded by Victoria Police,” he was quoted saying.

Australia’s federal government has asked each state to outline plans for the return of international students. A federal Education Department spokesman said, “no final plans have been shared with the Commonwealth”. The spokesman added that larger numbers of international student arrivals will only be considered when Australians wishing to return to Australia have returned in substantial numbers. Andrews said his government was still working on its proposal. “I can’t give you a date when we’ll finalise all of that work but it’s what’s dominating a fair amount of our time at the moment,” he said.

Previously, it was reported that the Victorian government is considering a proposal to fly up to 23,000 international students into Victoria early next year and allow them to quarantine in student accommodation. The plan was put forward by a team of international education and accommodation groups who are aiming to bring back students without taking hotel quarantine places away from returning Australians. Scape is among the organisations behind the plan presented to the Victorian government. The company’s executive chair Craig Carracher was quoted saying that, under the proposal, 23,000 international students would arrive between January 2020 and the university census date of April 30, 2020. They would arrive via chartered flights paid for by accommodation companies. 

Australian student housing providers stand to lose millions of lost revenue 

Scape had plans to open five new sites around the country this year, Weber said, but is “looking at an 80 to 90% cut in occupancy” that represents millions of dollars of lost revenue. Students can pay up to 600 Australian dollars per week for a room in their premium buildings. While Australian student accommodation providers expect to face empty rooms if no further action is taken to facilitate international students’ return to Australia, more than 5,000 international students have signed a petition calling for more support from the federal government. 

In the petition, students argued that international students contribute to the Australian economy, adding that “it is unfair that they are left hanging without any specific plans”. “This pandemic has a global impact, however other universities around the world has (sic) made a clear response as to whether students would return except for Australia. This is unfair on the international students who pay a much higher international fee, as well as obviously neglecting the guidance which would help them during such a difficult time for everyone.” A longstanding hashtag campaign — #BringUsBacktoAus and #LetUsBacktoAus — has also been running on Twitter.