'Very positive step': International student advocates welcome new Adelaide pilot program

A similar scheme bringing students to the ACT was scrapped in July after coronavirus cases in Victoria began to skyrocket.

International students are set to return to Adelaide.

International students are set to return to Adelaide. Source: Flickr

Advocates for international students have welcomed  set to bring around 300 from south east Asia to Adelaide as part of efforts to boost Australia's higher education sector amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Students from China, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore will fly into the South Australian capital early next month.

It comes after a similar scheme to bring 350 students to the Australian Capital Territory  in July after the onset of the second coronavirus wave in Victoria.

International students bring approximately $39 billion per year into the national economy, but border restrictions in place since March have prevented thousands of fee-paying students from returning. 

"[This program] is a very positive step for the students who are stranded abroad who are really desperate to come and study in Australia," Bijay Sapkota, co-founder of Student Jobs Australia, told SBS News. 

"Many are doing a course online ... but lot of them are really concerned by the high volume of fees they pay and not being able to learn in the the physical environment."

Study Adelaide CEO Karyn Kent said for many international students stranded overseas when the borders closed, returning to Australia was crucial for them to be able to complete their course.

"Many students are required to complete placements, practicals or internships to complete their qualification and these cannot be delivered online," she told SBS News.

Announcing the program on Sunday, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the program would be used to test whether a return of international students could be managed nationally.

The students will be forced to undergo mandatory supervised quarantine, like all international travellers, on arrival, which will be paid for by universities.

SA Health has also said the trial would help revive the state's economy and the students posed little risk of spreading the virus.

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said on Sunday that international students also contributed greatly to Adelaide's fabric.

"International students are an important part of our community, adding to our state's vibrancy and multiculturalism," he said.

The premier said the state's handling of coronavirus had put it in "the ideal position to be a first mover" in bringing back international students.

But the scheme has sparked concerns among and their families in South Australia who worry that it will cause already-skyrocketing flight prices to rise even higher.

There are also concerns the students would overload the quarantine system and eat into the flight caps that restrict the number of people allowed into Australia each week. There are currently 500 slots available in Adelaide per week. 

But Senator Birmingham said on Twitter on Sunday he was confident South Australia can accommodate the international students without issue.

Mr Sapkota said international students are self-funded, so they don't draw on the taxpayers' purse, and is urging those sceptical of the program to consider how it will benefit the community as a whole.

"People must consider the benefits," he said.

"International students support thousands of jobs in the higher education sector with their high level of fees - and so many other sectors rely on the money brought in my international students, such as tourism and hospitality."

Ms Kent said international students were vital to South Australia's economy, with a new job created for every four students arriving from overseas. 

But they also also carried value in other areas, she said.

"International students make significant contributions to our education communities, strengthen our state’s ties to our global region, and support our international research and study efforts," Ms Kent said.

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If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

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4 min read
Published 18 August 2020 at 5:41am
By Caroline Riches