Up to 300 international students stuck outside Australia are set to return to three state-owned universities in Adelaide on Singapore Airlines flights starting from this month through to January next year.
A South Australia Government spokesperson told SBS Punjabi that seats on these flights will be allocated to overseas students without disadvantaging Australian citizens and permanent residents seeking to return home after months of being stranded by a COVID-prompted border ban.
“The pilot program is very important to South Australia’s universities, and to these students. But the return of Australians offshore is still the priority of the South Australian and Australian governments,” said the spokesperson.
- Up to 300 international students to return to South Australia on Singapore Airlines flights
- International students from nine countries have been invited to join the pilot
- International students from diverse countries will return to Australia: Morrison Government
Where are the students flying from?
Giving an insight into how the pilot will operate, the spokesperson said that details including the country of origin of students, flight dates and number of students per flight are yet to be determined.
The state government, however, confirmed that students from these nine locations have been invited to join the pilot plan.
There are aviation links with a number of markets across the region and students from Singapore, Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand and Indonesia have been invited to join the pilot
The spokesperson said that all three SA universities taking part in the pilot, Adelaide University, Flinders University and University of South Australia, have already sent out letters of offer to the cohort of students to essentially put them on ‘standby.’
“The pilot is still for up to 300 international students and they will begin to arrive on separate Singapore Airlines flights in the coming months and South Australia looks forward very much to having them return,” added the spokesperson.
According to the Department of Home Affairs figures, there are about 210,000 less international students in the country than would have been expected before the government clamped its borders in March to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
This figure includes 135,000 students who are currently enrolled but stranded outside Australia, of which at least 6,600 are stuck in India.
One of them is Mandira Raja, an Adelaide-based international student who is pursuing a business degree from a private college. The 24-year-old is anxiously waiting for her turn to return to the campus so she can finish her bachelors’ degree.
'Please let the existing international students return'
Ms Raja is now pinning her hopes on the success of the state’s first pilot that she believes would encourage other universities and private education institutions to initiate the return of its current students.
“I know my institution is not running any pilot as of now, but I am hopeful that once these 300 students safely return to the campuses, we will be next in line,” she said.
Ms Raja said the Australian Government should at least allow those students to return, who are close to completion of their degrees.
“Please let us return because not all courses can be studied online. Some require specific equipment, while others like my business degree entail a lot of presentations which require face to face classroom lectures,” she said.
‘Students from diverse countries will be allowed to return’:
As part of protocols released for international student arrivals, the Morrison Government stated that “overall, student arrival plans must include students from a diverse range of source countries,” but stopped short of naming the source countries.
Reiterating the government’s stand, Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia, said the government is not likely to discriminate against overseas students from countries like India that continue to grapple with an increasing number of new coronavirus cases.
“The Prime minister released the national framework, the national cabinet with all the states and territories endorsed last Friday and that national framework clearly states that they want to get international students back for semester 1 next year,” he said.
Pilot plans are not going to be discriminatory and it’s not going to say that we will only take international students from countries that have contained the virus - Phil Honeywood
But details of the pilot program shared by University of South Australia on its website clearly state that “none of the countries students will be coming from are in the top 12 confirmed case countries in the world, as identified by the WHO (as at October 2020).”
This excludes the return of international students from India to UniSA in the near future, since India is second in the list of countries worst-affected by COVID-19, but other universities may choose to take a different line.
The website further states that “locations from where the students will be flying from have been selected based on being approved Singapore Airlines transit routes and appropriate timing of suitable connections to Adelaide.”
How were the students shortlisted?
While no flight bookings have yet been confirmed, it is understood that students who will be returning as part of the pilot are all currently-enrolled students, who will be responsible for meeting the costs of the flights and two-week quarantine process with some assistance from participating universities through their welfare plans.
Eligible students who expressed interest in returning as part of the program were shortlisted based on a number of factors, including “course requirements and where face-to-face and practical learning or placements are essential to their degree, as well as how close they are to completing their degrees,” as per details revealed by the SA Government.
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