A senior state government minister has offered hope that international students could return to New South Wales (NSW), Australia by early 2021, or even by the end of this year. Penrith MP Stuart Ayres, who is the Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney, said he is having “a number of conversations with vice-chancellors” about how to set up a quarantine system based on the government’s experience and collaboration with NSW Police, reported The Sydney Morning Herald.
Ayres said NSW’s record of quarantining 60,000 returning travellers through Sydney had built a “strong bed of evidence that we can learn from” in managing overseas student arrivals. “I foreshadow that we’ll be able to open borders to international students through a quarantine regime much earlier than we’ll be able to open borders to the visitor economy,” he was quoted saying by the report at the ATN International Education Summit on Wednesday.
We have learned a lot from our Hotel Quarantine program…we should use these lessons to help get international students back in our education institutions. https://t.co/SDYqA5S7Wu
— Stuart Ayres (@stuartayresmp) September 23, 2020
Ayres said he saw “no reason why we can’t be optimistic here in NSW about doing something for the start of 2021”, adding that it’s something he will be working towards. “I’ll be talking to vice-chancellors further about our lessons learned and how we can work more closely with the university sector,” he said.
Previously, the Group of Eight — Australia’s eight leading universities — proposed a “safe corridors” framework that would allow international students to return to the country to protect next year’s planned intake and billions of dollars in revenue for both the sector and the state. The pilot programme to bring international students back was put on hold in July due to the dire COVID-19 situation in Victoria, the repatriation of Australian citizens and the pressure on the hotel quarantine system.
Ayres said a 14-day quarantine was seen as a manageable request for international students who would stay in the country for an extended period. He also did not rule out the potential for a sooner return, such as the end of 2020, but said student safety would be paramount. The report added that a senior government source said the NSW government is yet to seek approval from the federal government for a safe corridors pilot in NSW, but that it was hoped international students could return as soon as it was safe for them to do so.
South Australia and the Northern Territory are likely to be first to open their borders to international students, according to Phil Honeywood, CEO of the International Education Association of Australia. Honeywood was quoted by Times Higher Education saying UK universities had recently chartered flights to bring in overseas students, adding that, “We’re in danger of being behind the eight ball compared to other countries.”