pilot programme
Will the pilot programmes put forth by state governments pull through this year? Source: David Gray/AFP

New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria are drawing up individual pilot programmes plan to bring international students back to Australia, reported SBS Punjabi. A spokesperson for NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet told the portal that NSW is developing a plan to revive the international student and education sector within the context of the current quarantine system. “Any approved plan will incorporate all the existing police and health protections to ensure the safety of the community and students,” the spokesperson was quoted saying.

The NSW government had earlier advertised an expression of interest, inviting eligible purpose-built student accommodation providers based in the Sydney CBD or its fringe to submit an expression of interest to house international students coming into NSW for the 14-day quarantine period. Proposed properties will be assessed in consultation with NSW Police; NSW Health; and Fire and Rescue NSW for assessing their suitability to join the programme.

“The NSW government continues to work constructively with the universities, health officials, police officials and state and federal counterparts to find a solution that can operate alongside the international arrivals caps mandated by [the] National Cabinet for each individual state,” said the spokesperson.

Victoria’s pilot programme

pilot programme

Victoria’s plan was rejected by the federal government. Source: Peter Parks/AFP

Victoria had reopened its hotel quarantine programme on April 8 and submitted a proposal to the federal government seeking to reserve 120 additional places for economic cohorts, including international students and skilled migrants, said SBS Punjabi. The plan, however, was rejected by the federal government, which is reportedly keen to greenlight pilot plans that can accommodate returning students in addition to their current caps for stranded citizens and permanent residents returning home.

A spokesperson of the Victorian government said the state will continue to work with the Commonwealth and utilise these places as soon as this matter is agreed to. “We look forward to welcoming international students back to Victoria when it is safe to do so. The current budget provides 33.4 million Australian dollars to lay the foundation for a strong recovery for the sector,” the spokesperson was quoted saying. Both NSW and Victoria have the largest cohort of international students.

No ‘firm guarantees’ over when large numbers of students can return 

pilot programme

International students want a clear timeline for their return to Australia. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP

Australia Minister for Education and Youth Alan Tudge touched on student mobility in his address to the Australian Technology Network (ATN) innovation summit on Monday (April 19) and reiterated that there is still so much uncertainty regarding the return of international students to Australia. “I know with the borders being closed, that has caused disruptions to the [education] sector, universities, [and] to the broader community because we haven’t been able to get new international students in,” he said. 

“I can’t provide any firm guarantees as to when we’re going to have large numbers back. I had said a few weeks ago that I’d hoped and increasingly hoped that larger numbers would be backed by early next year. It still remains my hope that we’ll get there but I just can’t guarantee this and we’re obviously watching this space very carefully.” Tudge said they had provided “a fair bit of assistance to the university sector last year” to help them manage the transition and deal with the financial challenges faced due to fewer international students.

“… we’re certainly keeping a close eye on the university finances in that regard. I am — I have been looking at the numbers and I’ve got to say that I’m quite pleased the numbers aren’t nearly as bad as what we perhaps thought that they would be at this stage but we are keeping a close eye on and I just do want to acknowledge the situation that you’re in,” he said.