In a bold plan hailed by the education sector, international students will fly in to return to study in NSW by October. To resurrect the state’s global education market, the NSW government proposes converting student housing in Sydney’s CBD into quarantine lodgings.
Tertiary education was NSW’s second-largest export before the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing in more than $14 billion per year. Barney Glover chairs a committee of all NSW university vice-chancellors that established the International Student Accommodation Quarantine Program in collaboration with the state and federal governments.
“I think we can see students coming within six months, and I’d hope to see students arriving certainly in the early part of the second half of this year,” Professor Glover said.
He described the programme as a “modest pilot,” intending to fly in and quarantine around 250 students every two weeks.
Professor Glover explained, “That’s very much a warning to our students offshore that we’re moving now more quickly toward an opportunity to welcome them back to Australia.”
According to the NSW government, it has lost a third of its foreign student population this year, and it could lose even more as students abroad become impatient. Akshit Bhasin is studying to become a mechanic from the comfort of his own home in India. Mr Bhasin explained, “As everyone knows, a car can’t be fixed online.”
He’s thinking about resuming his studies in a country like Canada, which has made immigration concessions to encourage international students to return to campus.
Eva Mitgaard, a PhD student, stranded in Spain and staying with relatives, hopes the NSW Government’s quarantine policy will be expedited to resume her studies in Australia after a year of distance learning. “Not being able to meet and be in Sydney with my research peers is delaying my research,” she said.
“Being in limbo is aggravating.”
The British-Norwegian resident studying financial modelling wants more information about when the federal government will allow international students to enter the country.
Unilodge, a national student housing provider, said NSW’s efforts to reintroduce international students had given some clarity.
Tomas Johnsson, UniLodge Australia’s chief executive, said his company was one of many that expressed interest in operating the quarantine programme in NSW, as well as other programmes planned across the region.
“I have high confidence that NSW is more likely to pull this off,” Mr Johnsson said.
“I believe [the state government’s] overall risk-reward policy has been the most realistic in the world.”
The NSW government stated that the programme would operate concurrently with the existing hotel quarantine scheme and follow the same strict health and law enforcement procedures.
The initiative’s start date has yet to be determined.