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'Not confident Indian students can return to Australia when borders open': Barry O’Farrell

Thousands of Indian students enrolled in Australian universities are waiting for borders to open to enter Australia. Source: Getty Images/gawrav

While Indian international students are now heading back to university in countries like the US, Canada and the UK, thousands enrolled in Australian universities are still waiting to hear their return plan.

A large number of international students, including thousands from India, enrolled in Australian universities remain offshore due to the strict border closure. Overseas students have been forced to move to remote learning from their home countries.

For Shreeya Pradhan, a nursing student enrolled in a university in Queensland last year, it is a struggle to study remotely from her hometown, Darjeeling, in India’s eastern state of West Bengal. 

Indian students in Australia
Shreeya Pradhan, enrolled in a nursing course in Queensland University of Technology, is waiting for borders to open to join her course in Australia.


  • Concerns raised about return of Indian international students to Australia at AII webinar
  • Australian High Commissioner to India unable to offer a timeline for return of Indian students 
  • Indian student enrolment in Australian universities falls by 13 per cent between Jan-May 

“For my nursing course, I am only allowed do four units remotely and the rest have to be in Australia. So, my university has asked me to take a leave of absence till February next year as I cannot go to Australia yet,” Ms Pradhan told SBS Hindi.

“Despite paying over Rs 10 lakh ($20,000) in fee, I’m feeling stuck. I am forced to do nothing. If I am not allowed to enter Australia even next year, then I will be looking at another option,” she added.

According to data released by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment in May, the number of Indian students enrolled in Australian universities dropped by 13 per cent between January and May this year as compared to a similar period last year. 

The Australian High Commissioner to India, Barry O’Farrell, addressed such concerns during a webinar arranged by the Australia India Institute (AII) on 10 August.

Whilst there are concerns expressed about the impact of border closures on our prospects, we are in no confidence here that once borders reopen, those students would continue to flow into Australia

“Australia shares the frustration of the pandemic which has interrupted students’ dreams to study in Australia, and has in fact, affected the overseas studies of students globally. 

Indian students
Barry O'Farrell, Australian High Commissioner to India, says he is aware of frustration of Indian students about them entering into Australia.
AAP Image/Joel Carrett

“Regrettably, we have students in India who otherwise would have been in Australia, but are studying online. We know the Australian government is in discussions with all states and territories about their continued planning for international student arrival when conditions allow,” Mr O’Farrell added. 

He mentioned that South Australia and New South Wales had submitted their plans to the Commonwealth about the return of international students, which was a positive development. However, he also added that the number of students returning to Australia would be small.

Mr O’Farrell said that Indian students were an important part of the Australian community and assured that the Australian government was in talks with the Indian side on this matter as it is with students and their families.

“I don’t imagine for a moment that it’s easy on students but I can remain optimistic and I can imagine a time when the student mobility will return to normal,” he said in response to the concerns raised by the Indian High Commissioner to Australia Manpreet Vohra. 

Indian students
Manpreet Vohra, Indian High Commissioner to Australia, says Indian students are suffering.
Pedro Martin Gonzalez Castillo/Getty Images

Highlighting that students enrolled in Australian universities were suffering, Mr Vohra said, “I hope an early solution is found to bring back students who have been unable to return to Australia since the start of the pandemic.

They are suffering, and, they are suffering big

Ravi Lochan, president of the Association of Australian Education Representatives in India (AAERI), has been vocal about Australia assisting Indian students to return and join their courses.

He said that it was disappointing to see students manage their studies online from India.

By contrast, countries such as the UK, Ireland, the US and Canada are making it easier for international students to arrive and study on campus. This is where Australia is losing out

He told SBS Hindi that it was understandable the Australian High Commissioner could not put a precise date when Indian students will be able to return to Australia, but hoped that students would be able to do so in early 2022 and in time for the July 2022 intake. 

The AII webinar was also attended by the former Australian high commissioner to India Peter Varghese, AII’s Acting Director Ashok Kumar and Chancellor of the University of Melbourne Allan Myers, who also chairs the AII board.

The two high commissioners also discussed areas of trade and investment including mining, research and innovation for boosting ties between the two countries.  

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