Thursday, September 24, 2020

International students could be in NSW by early 2021, senior minister says

A senior state government minister says NSW is aiming to welcome international students by early 2021, as it shores up lessons from hotel quarantine to share with the university sector.

Stuart Ayres, the minister for jobs, investment, tourism and Western Sydney, 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 said, speaking at the ATN International Education Summit on Wednesday.

"I see no reason why we can't be optimistic here in NSW about doing something for the start of 2021. That’s definitely something that I’ll 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."

For months universities have been urging governments to establish a secure corridor scheme for overseas students to return to Australia, to protect next year's planned intake and billions of dollars in revenue for both the sector and the state.

A trial program to establish a safe corridor for overseas students was put on the backburner in Julybecause of the dire coronavirus situation in Victoria, the repatriation of Australian citizens and pressure on the hotel quarantine system.

But Mr Ayres said he was now 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.

He said a 14-day quarantine was seen as a manageable request for overseas students who would stay in the country for an extended period.

A University of Sydney spokeswoman said the university looked forward working with the NSW government. "This very welcome step will be complex and require all levels of government, universities and the private sector including airlines to work together," she said.

University of Technology Sydney deputy vice-chancellor said NSW universities would welcome students as soon as possible. "This would be a win not just for the universities but of general benefit to the state's economy," he said.

Mr Ayres did not rule out the potential for a sooner return, such as the end of the year, but said student safety would be paramount.

Phil Honeywood, chief executive officer of the International Education Association, said it was vital for universities to have some international students able to return to their studies by the start of first semester next year.

"It is heartening to have a senior NSW government minister indicating proof of life for our beleaguered industry," he said.

"Clearly with South Australia and the Northern Territory already indicating they are bringing international students back, NSW want to keep their market share. Other states such as WA, Queensland and Victoria are likely to be left behind if the NSW government make good on this rhetoric."

A senior government source said the NSW government had not yet sought 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.

The Northern Territory is expected to receive a small number of international students on a chartered flight including returning Australian citizens this year, as part of its federal government approved safe corridors trial.

Mr Ayres said he thought Australia had maintained its reputation as a COVID-safe study location despite the Victorian outbreak and that all states would be glad to see the return of international students.

"I don’t think we need to have our state colours on," he said. "I think everyone around Australia… has a really strong appreciation of the value international students bring to our economies, to our cities, to our regional communities."

University of Wollongong deputy vice-chancellor of global strategy, Alex Frino, said he was "confident we can safely bring international students into the country".

A spokesperson for the Department of Education, Skills and Employment said state and territory governments are responsible for any pilot programs to return international students in their jurisdictions.

"The Australian Government does not have an active proposal under consideration from the NSW Government," the spokesperson said.

This article written by Natassia Chrysanthos and Anna Patty.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, September 24, 2020

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