New South Wales
Plans are in the offing to allow international students to return to New South Wales by the first quarter of 2021. Source: David Gray/AFP

New South Wales Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney Stuart Ayres is said to be negotiating with the federal government to bring international students back early next year, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. The absence of international students due to the pandemic has left the state facing a 2.5 billion Australian dollars hit to its wider economy.

The NSW Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Geoff Lee said COVID-19 had “emphasised the importance of international students for the New South Wales economy,” adding that Treasury figures showed that each international student contributed about AU$50,000 to the New South Wales economy.

Potential loss of over AU$18 billion from international students

Research by Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute estimates that there will only be 300,000 international students living in Australia by mid next year, a drop of around 50%, if Australia’s borders remain closed.

The international education crisis is not just a university problem, said the report, adding that more than half (about 57%), or AU$21.4 billion of the AU$37.5 billion in annual revenue associated with international education comes from goods and services spent in the wider economy. 

Applications for international student visas have taken a plunge, falling 80% to 90% below what they were at the same time in 2019. There are approximately 210,000 fewer international students in Australia than would otherwise be expected. 

Lee said international students not only contribute to the income of universities but also to local businesses as well as the accommodation, food and hospitality sectors. “We are working with the federal government and we have a safe planned way we could return the appropriate number of international students,” he said.

Pilot programmes unlikely to help Australia’s economy  

Charles Darwin University (CDU) is slated to welcome back international students to Australia on Nov. 30, 2020 under a pilot programme. They will be the first batch of foreign students to return to Australia; Northern Territory the first jurisdiction in the country to let international students enter.

South Australia’s pilot programme — which was proposed by Adelaide University, the University of South Australia (UniSA) and Flinders University — will reportedly see 300 international students fly into the state between Nov. 2020 and Jan. 2021. The federal Department of Education, Skills and Employment said state and territory governments were responsible for any pilot programmes to return students in their jurisdictions. “States and territories are expected to ensure that no international students take the place of Australians returning from overseas,” the spokesperson said.

Can pilot programmes make up for the loss of 300,000 international students? No, according to University of Technology Sydney deputy vice-chancellor Iain Watt. “State governments all understand that the major part of the benefit that derives to Australia from international students coming here is for the general economy in terms of jobs and income. It is not only jobs in universities,” he was quoted saying. Their return is esssential to protect the 250,000 jobs generated by international students.

Macquarie University deputy vice-chancellor Nicole Brigg said universities were in a “holding pattern” waiting for approval from the New South Wales government, adding that international students have brought tourism and investment to NSW.

International Education Association CEO Phil Honeywood said New South Wales was expected to be the next state after South Australia and the Northern Territory to bring international students back in January. “With the priority being for returning Australian citizens to get them back before Christmas,” he said.