Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said there could be a delay in bringing back more international students into Australia, but pilot plans initiated by states and territories will continue to be implemented as planned.
Reiterating his stand, Mr Morrison today said that the government will continue to put Australian citizens and permanent residents first and this could result in a potential delay in bringing more overseas students into the country for completion of their education.
- International student arrival into Australia set to be delayed says, PM Scott Morrison
- Australian citizens and permanent residents will be given priority to return
- International student pilot plans will remain unaffected says, Mr Morrison
'Pilot plans to bring current international students to continue unaffected'
The prime minister, however, confirmed that the delay will not impact student return pilots, at least two of which - in Northern Territory and South Australia - are in their final stages of implementation.
“The challenges we have in getting Australians home means the ability to move and take international students back at this time through quarantine arrangements does not present itself. It's Australians coming home first,” he said while addressing the media after the national cabinet meeting on Friday.
The pilots will go ahead. Because they've been done above caps – PM Scott Morrison
Only 300 international students have arrived into the country between April and October, leaving close to 135,000 students who are still enrolled stranded outside the country.
International education was worth $37.5 billion to Australia in 2018-19.
Acknowledging the economic value and contribution of overseas students to the country’s exchequer, the prime minister said the decision to delay the return of students is predicated by the country’s quarantine capacity, which will expand in days to come when Victoria agrees to allow international flights.
But he refrained from providing a timeline.
“I can't give a commitment to the states that we'd be in a position to allow any, you know, broader entry of international students at this time. But we'll look at it again in several weeks,” said Mr Morrison.
According to a research conducted by Mitchell Institute, an education policy think tank, Australia will have over 300,000 less international students, nearly half of its pre-pandemic numbers by July next year if border restrictions remain in place. This paints a dark future for the education industry already buckling under financial pressure brought about by inflating deferments and nosediving new enrolments.
'I have no choice but to give up on my Australian dream'
For Gurpreet Singh, a hospitality student stuck in the northern Indian state of Punjab, the news could not have come at a worse time.
The 26-year-old who hails from a family of limited means said he has exhausted all his financial means in paying for his tuition and rent for an accommodation that he is forced to maintain in Melbourne as it still houses his belongings.
“I was hoping for some reprieve from this prolonged uncertainty and anxiety, but the prime minister’s announcement today has left me with no choice but to give up on my dream to study in Australia,” he said.
Mr Singh is one of nearly 9,000 current overseas students who are stranded in various parts of India and are being “forced” to complete their studies offshore online.
“I don’t have any choice but to complete my last semester online as my university so far has not indicated of any pilot plan to bring its students back,” he added.
Victoria, which is home to the largest cohort of international students from India, has told SBS Punjabi that “the state government is continuing to work with the Commonwealth on a detailed proposal and we look forward to welcoming international students back to Victoria when it is safe to do so.”
The New South Wales Government has also signalled an early-2021 return for students to campuses.
In a statement to SBS Punjabi last month, Stuart Ayres, the Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney said the state is gearing up to welcome back its international students by early next year.
With appropriate quarantine arrangements in place, there is no reason we can’t aim to have international students back in NSW for semester one 2021
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