Federal government asks universities for help bringing back international students

The federal government will consider university plans to bring back international students as long as they can quarantine them properly.

The university sector is pushing the federal government for a plan to let international students return.

The higher education sector has been hit hard by a drop off in international students as the pandemic led to border closures. Source: AAP

International students could head back to Australia within months as universities plan for how they can be safely quarantined and cleared of coronavirus.

The higher education sector has been hit hard by a drop off in international students as the pandemic led to border closures.

The government's early move to stop people coming from China was especially damaging, with that country the largest source of international students to Australia.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said universities should put forward suggestions about how they could bring international students back to campuses.

"We are welcoming of proposals for universities - subject to it being at the same time as their general student populations - to look at means of bringing back through supervised, stringent quarantine, international students," he told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday.

"That is something that both state and federal governments would be willing to consider."

Universities Australia is working with health and immigration officials on an overarching framework.

The peak body says institutions will be in a position to have detailed discussions with their state governments once the commonwealth has agreed to the basic ground rules.

But it says the sector will need to have resumed face-to-face teaching before international students return.

"Universities and students need to be ready when government decides to relax border restrictions," chief executive Catriona Jackson told AAP.

"Any return will, of course, be run strictly in line with health advice and would be conducted with the utmost caution."

The national cabinet's guidelines for lifting restrictions say international students may be able to return once the nation reaches the third stage, anticipated in July.

In February there was a 41 per cent drop, 61,400 people, in the number of overseas higher education students arriving compared with the previous year.

This continued through March, with a further 10 per cent fall in arrivals, and in April just 30 people on temporary student visas arrived in Australia.

By comparison, in April last year 46,480 students arrived.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits. Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

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3 min read
Published 20 May 2020 at 3:42pm