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Indian international students may not return to Australia in large numbers in 2021: Alan Tudge

International students from India may not return to Australia in large numbers this year: Alan Tudge Source: AAP/Getty

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge has said that international students may not be able to return to Australia in significant numbers this year, amidst uncertainty around the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and escalation in cases in many countries around the world.

Scuppering the plans of thousands of international students stuck in India, Minister Tudge on Thursday said that he doesn’t foresee a mass return of overseas students any time before 2022.


  • International students may not return to Australia in large numbers in 2021: Alan Tudge
  • The return of international students from India will depend on the vaccine regime in their country
  • Minister Tudge ruled out the possibility of setting up a travel bubble with India 

'My hope is that certainly from next year we will be starting to be close to being normal again'

The Education Minister who took over the portfolio in December last year spoke at the ‘Study in Australia’ webinar organised by the Australia India Business Council (AIBC) earlier today.

“My hope is that certainly from next year we will be starting to be close to being normal again and having significant numbers of international students to be returning, but there are a lot of ifs to get to that point in time,” he told the AIBC members who raised the plight of international students desperately waiting for their turn to fly back to the Australian shores.

“The if in some respects is a bit dependent on how effective the vaccine is and not just on the efficacy of not getting sick but also from the efficacy on transmission,” he said.

AIBC webinar
A snapshot of the AIBC's 'Study in Australia webinar held on 25 March 2021.
Supplied by AIBC

Ever since the pandemic hit in March 2020, nearly 38,000 Indian students have left Australia as per the government numbers, leaving only 77,000 currently enrolled students onshore, down from 115,000 in 2020.

Along with existing students, the drop off in the number of new students choosing to study in Australia has also been significant in the second half of 2020.

The latest government data indicates a 48 per cent dip in offshore student visa applications from India, the second-largest source of students, second only to China.

Acknowledging the void left by Indian students and its cumulative impact on the Australian education sector, Minister Tudge said that while the number of students in the country was down, many, however, continue to study online from abroad.

Giving a glimmer of hope to the cohort stranded overseas, he said there is a possibility of a small number of students returning this year if states and territories work with educational institutions to set up a separate quarantine regime for students, over and above the existing spots reserved for returning citizens and permanent residents.

“I know that at the very least New South Wales and South Australia are working on such proposals at the moment,” he said.

International students
Australia recorded a 48 per cent dip in offshore student visa applications from India in the second half of 2020.
Getty Images/Kiyoshi Hijiki

Minister Tudge, however, added that apart from the efficacy of vaccines, the fate of the Indian students would also depend on the nature of the vaccine regime being carried out in their home country and their ability to provide evidence that they have been vaccinated upon entry into Australia.

He signalled that the government is working on a mechanism to include vaccination status as part of a digital incoming passenger card which could pave the way for the return of foreign students by early next year.

“And if that’s the case and transmission is low, then my hope would be that someone’s been vaccinated in India, we have had a good rollout of the vaccine here, then we can bring people back in again in a relatively safe manner,” Mr Tudge said.

International students
International student holding a poster during a peaceful protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on 22 March 2021.
Supplied by Gagandeep Singh

The minister’s statements come on the heels of protests organised by international students stuck in India against the Morrison government’s 'hard' border closure.

Manavdeep Singh, who was studying business administration from Sydney before he left for India in 2020, said the Australian government’s “delay and inconsistency” regarding student return plans has left him confused and disheartened.

“We are just stuck in the middle, and no one is providing us with a timeline to return. I have resumed my studies online half-heartedly because my entire focus now is to finish my degree and move on because I cannot wait until next year to return to Australia,” the 26-year-old said.

Patron of AIBC Victoria and one of the webinar's co-hosts, Vasan Srinivasan told SBS Punjabi that Indian community leaders and federations must band together to safeguard the interests of international students once the borders reopen.

“I have suggested that AIBC should work with the Federation of Indian Association of Victoria and all other federations in Australis as a team to assist students and put up advice on their websites – some do’s and don’ts, what is the context, what are the community organisations in every state to get some assistance before and after they arrive in Australia,” Mr Srinivasan said.

No travel bubble with India:

Earlier this month, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack had signalled that Australia is working with Singapore to open up an international travel bubble as early as July.

Shedding light on the progress, Minister Tudge said that the government is working towards establishing such bubble arrangements with countries like New Zealand and Singapore that have successfully contained the virus.

He, however, ruled out the possibility of setting up a travel corridor with India.

“The other mechanism is that if there are bubble arrangements which we would have with other countries, now I think it’s going to be difficult with India though simply because it’s such a large country and virus has been relatively broadly transmitted,” Mr Tudge said.

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