The Australian Capital Territory government has approved a pilot scheme which would see hundreds of existing international students returning to Canberra to complete their studies and to resurrect the billion-dollar international education sector.
A chartered flight carrying up to 350 international students will arrive at Canberra airport ahead of the commencement of the second semester next month, as part of the nation-leading plan being jointly initiated by the University of Canberra and the Australian National University.
Under the plan, all returning students will be subject to 14-day mandatory quarantine in hotels before being allowed to return to classroom studies.
- ACT will be the first to welcome back international students to Australia
- Up to 350 students will land in Canberra under the pilot plan mid-July
- Returning students will be subject to 14-day mandatory hotel quarantine
- ACT government and universities will pay for quarantine arrangements
UC Vice-Chancellor Professor Paddy Nixon told SBS Punjabi that the ACT government and the universities will be jointly paying for hotel quarantine arrangements for the returning students.
“The plan will see 350 international students landing in the first flight in Canberra in the middle of July ahead of the second semester. They will be subjected to mandatory quarantine at hotels in Canberra which will be partly paid for by us and the ACT government,” said Professor Nixon.
Only students who are enrolled with universities in Canberra but could not return as a result of the COVID-19-induced travel restrictions will be allowed to re-enter the country. For example, those studying research or postgraduate courses, honours students and those in the final year of their undergraduate degree will be eligible.
Professor Nixon said strict protocols will be in place for their flights, transfers and supervised quarantine for the successful execution of the pilot program.
“Over 400 international students are studying at the universities who were unable to return due to the coronavirus restrictions. We will be reaching out to those students and those who’d wish to participate will be considered for the pilot.
Returning international students to be from different source countries - UC Vice-Chancellor
Professor Nixon added that the universities are working out the final protocols of the plan, which will be implemented as soon as they get formal approval from the federal government.
“The Prime Minster has described the pilot proposal as excellent, and we are now awaiting formal approvals from the government,” he added.
'We miss our international students'
Speaking to the media last week, the ACT chief minister Andrew Barr had said that the protocols would be in line with the government’s repatriation process that has witnessed the return of thousands of Australian citizens and permanent residents.
“We have already piloted the sort of program that would work for international students through our repatriation flights. The same principles apply - around two weeks of quarantine and screening and testing and all of those safeguards are absolutely fundamental to this being successful,” said Mr Barr.
Welcoming the plan, ANU president and vice-chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said international students are an important part of the on-campus experience.
“We miss our international students and the contribution they make to university life so we can’t wait to welcome them safely back into our community. This pilot is a great first step to bringing more of them back and boosting the social and economic life of our city,” said Professor Schmidt.
ANU undergraduate student Harpragaas Singh who is currently stranded in the northern Indian state of Punjab said he is eager to return to the campus to secure his degree in advanced computing and to his friends and life in Canberra.
“I had come to visit my family in India in February and was due to return in April but could not because of the sudden travel ban. The news of the pilot plan could not be more timely as I am anxious to return to my study and life in ACT,” said the 23-year-old.
Paving way for the ‘phased’ return of overseas students Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday said that states will have to first open their borders to interstate travellers before they can initiate plans to facilitate the return of students stranded offshore.
About 120,000 students or 20 per cent of total international enrolments in Australia are currently blocked from entering the country due to the border closure.
New South Wales and Victoria next?
NSW and Victoria - the two states which are home to the largest cohort of international students have also indicated that they are preparing to welcome back overseas students.
A spokesperson for the Victorian government told SBS Punjabi the state government is working closely with education providers and the Commonwealth Government to explore viable options to support international students to return to Victoria “when it is safe to do so.”
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