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Australian university plans to fly back international students from India on charter flight

كيف ستمنع استراليا فيروس كورونا المتحول من التسلل الى المجتمعات المحلية؟ Source: Getty Images/Virojt Changyencham

In hopeful news for international students stranded in India, Northern Territory’s Charles Darwin University has told SBS Punjabi that it is currently working on plans to organise a charter flight to bring back Indian international students.

Following the success of its initial pilot that facilitated the return of 63 international students to Darwin, CDU is now holding discussions to organise further flights in the first six months of next year - one of which is expected to bring back students stranded in India.


  • Charles Darwin University plans to arrange charter flight from India to fly back international students
  • CDU has already welcomed 63 students from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam, and Indonesia
  • More than 6,600 currently-enrolled international students are stranded in India

In a statement to SBS Punjabi, a CDU spokesperson said the university has many overseas students in India and they are keen to have them studying back on-campus in early 2021.

“Following the success of our first pilot flight on Monday, CDU is working with the Northern Territory and Australian governments to arrange further flights in 2021,” said the CDU spokesperson.

CDU has held discussions about chartering a flight from India to fly back international students, but a final decision has not been made yet

‘International student return will be a priority in 2021’

The development comes as the Council of International Education led by Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan met in Canberra on Thursday to chalk out a long-term strategy to stimulate Australia’s beleaguered international education sector.

Education Minister Dan Tehan at Parliament House in Canberra.
Education Minister Dan Tehan at Parliament House in Canberra.

The high-level meeting which included six federal ministers and a group of education experts decided that the return of international students will be a priority for the sector in 2021, as fears grow that they're being lured to other countries like Canada and UK during the coronavirus pandemic.

"While COVID-19 has caused significant disruption to our international education sector, Australia remains a destination of choice for international students because of the high-quality of the education and lifestyle we offer, combined with our strong health response to the pandemic,” Mr Tehan said following the meeting.

International student
International student Pavitra Chode remains stranded in India.
Supplied by Pavitra Chode

Australia hosted over 750,000 international students in 2019, of which 15% of total enrolments came from students from India, many of whom are now stranded offshore and living in constant anxiety in the absence of a formidable plan to bring them back.

One of them is Pavitra Chode who is stuck in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad for the past eight months.

The 24-year-old who is pursuing a postgraduate degree from the Melbourne Institute of Technology said she is feeling abandoned as Indian students from countries like Canada and UK have started to return to their universities, while there is no sign of Australia opening its borders for students like her.

“Studying online is not a solution for everyone, not for me at least. I would prefer to complete my last semester on campus. But the problem is that while other countries are taking care of their students, Australia has completely abandoned us as if we do not exist,” said Ms Chode.

She added while its good news that at least CDU has started to mull about the future of Indian students, they haven’t yet heard of any pilot plans from governments in Victoria or New South Wales – the two states that host the largest cohort of students from India.

“It is good news that at least CDU is considering students from India. This might wake up other states such as Victoria and New South Wales where most of the Indian students are enrolled to study,” said Ms Chode.

State-wise breakdown on plans for international students:

Earlier this week, Mr Tehan disclosed that the Morrison Government had asked all jurisdictions to submit their plans outlining quarantine arrangements for returning students before November 30, a deadline that all states failed to meet.

“The Federal Government wants a pathway for the resumption of international education in Australia in a COVID-safe way once we have prioritised the return of Australians,” said Mr Tehan.

63 international students from 5 countries arrived at Darwin airport on Monday 30 November 2020
63 international students from 5 countries arrived at Darwin airport on Monday 30 November 2020
Charles Darwin University

While NSW, ACT and NT have indicated that they will submit their proposals to the Education Minister this week, Victoria has advised they are working on a detailed plan to take in students when it would be safe to do.

South Australia, meanwhile, has signalled that it would bring in a large number of students through the course of next year, starting with an initial pilot that will facilitate the return of up to 300 students into Adelaide that will be actioned early next year.

'Australia needs to do more'

Ravi Lochan Singh, an education consultant and the president of the Association of Australian Education Representatives in India (AAERI) said states need to pace up their work on pilot plans to revive the declining sentiment towards the Australian market.

“What CDU has done shows leadership as it’s the first Australian university to bring back international students but more states and universities, especially in NSW and Victoria, need to step up their plans to fly back international students,” he said.

Mr Singh said the ideal time to initiate these pilots was at least six months ago when other competitive global academic destinations also kept their borders shut to foreign students.

“If you look at the Indian subcontinent market alone, it’s really on the edge. And the challenge is to bring them back safely not just to Darwin, but also to cities like Melbourne and Sydney where most of the Indian students study,” he added.

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