India's High Commissioner confident travel ban hasn't turned international students off Australia

India's High Commissioner to Australia says students are invested in Australia and will return in what is a promising sign for the country's COVID-ravaged higher education sector.

India's High Commissioner to Australia Manpreet Vohra.

India's High Commissioner to Australia Manpreet Vohra. Source: Ben Patrick, SBS News

India's High Commissioner to Australia says he’s confident Indian students will return, despite the federal government’s controversial travel ban and limitations on international repatriation flights.

Manpreet Vohra said students have already invested in Australia and will return to finish their courses once borders reopen.

“They have found this a good country to study and I'm quite certain that they will return," he told SBS News.

More than 110,000 international students currently enrolled in higher education courses in Australia are studying remotely due to the border closures, according to federal government figures. Many of them are stranded in India.

India's High Commissioner Manpreet Vohra speaks to SBS News
India's High Commissioner Manpreet Vohra speaks to SBS News Source: Ben Patrick, SBS News

Education Minister Alan Tudge told SBS News large numbers of university students weren’t expected back until the second half of next year, but that state governments were already submitting proposals for pilot programs.

“We hope that we'll have some pilots of smaller numbers in the months ahead," he said.

“I've received a proposal from South Australia last Friday, and we're expecting one from New South Wales and Victoria as well."

But Mr Tudge said the South Australian proposal did not include Indian students.

“The SA proposal is largely geared at students from other locations initially, which have a lower COVID risk than India.”

Alan Tudge at Parliament House in Canberra.
Education Minister Alan Tudge says many international students aren't expected to return until the second half of next year. Source: AAP

Mr Vohra said he didn’t believe Indian-Australians had been singled out by the controversial travel ban enacted by the federal government.

“I have found nothing except welcome and love for India and Indian-Australians over here, so no I would not use those terms," Mr Vohra said.

The ban on flights from India was temporary in nature, but threatened penalties of five years in prison or $66,600 for breaches.

“I'm not going to second guess the government of Australia… I'm sure they think of a lot of factors when they come up with their decisions on how many people they accept back and how quickly they can accept them back," Mr Vohra said.

Mr Tudge said Indian students were highly valued in Australia, and wouldn’t be deterred by the strict travel conditions.  

“I'm not concerned about that. I mean, Indians now make up our number one source of migrants in a normal year. And we've got a very vibrant Indian community, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney."

The Indian government has launched a vaccination drive for stranded students in the sub-continent enrolled in foreign universities.

India' High Commission to Australia has also  to help keep track of them and assist in their return.

Mr Tudge could not say when universities could expect full enrolments of international students, despite his pledge to see 10 million international students studying for Australian qualifications, either online or in person, within 10 years.

“I just cannot say, and I don't think anybody can say with any level of confidence, because there's just so much uncertainty still around," he said.

“The budget assumption is that we'll have more significant numbers coming back in in the second half of 2022, but it is just an assumption.”

Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek remains sceptical of the government’s timeline.  

“The impact of our closed borders, the absolute failure with vaccination and quarantine mean that the impact of international students not being able to come to Australia will continue to be felt for some years to come," she said.

Ms Plibersek also said the influx of international students would be hard to justify with thousands of Australians stranded overseas.

“While we've still got 40,000 Australian stuck overseas, people who are supposed to be home by last Christmas, according to the government, it's pretty hard to see that flow of international students returning.”

4 min read
Published 3 June 2021 at 9:06pm
By Shuba Krishnan