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Melbourne unis offer to fly in international students and pay for their quarantine as desperation mounts over another year of locked borders

Business Insider Australia logo Business Insider Australia 8/04/2021 Bianca Healey
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  • A group of Victorian universities wants to pay a portion of international student’s hotel quarantine, along with other costs in a bid to get returned international students back in time for the second semester in June 2021.
  • The proposal, from an international education taskforce that includes Melbourne, Monash, RMIT and Deakin universities will need to be approved by the state government.
  • The university sector faces losses of up to $19 billion over the next three years due to lost international student revenue, according to think tank The Mitchell Institute.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia's homepage for more stories.

Victorian universities, desperate to revive international education, say they will pay for the quarantine of international students, in a new proposal reported by The Age.

It would be modelled on the Australian Open program in late February, in which tennis players were allowed into the country despite a strict cap on arrivals.

The universities hope that under the proposal around 1,000 foreign students would be flown into Melbourne every two to three weeks and placed into special hotel lockdown arrangements in an ambitious bid to revive international education in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Universities would help pay for flights, medical testing, transport, and quarantine facilities, with students and the state government also making contributions to the scheme.

The proposal comes from an international education taskforce that includes Melbourne, Monash, RMIT and Deakin universities and state government agency Global Victoria.

The universities have held a series of meetings to discuss how to bring stranded international students back into Victoria, however the state government hasn’t yet approved the plan.

Losses for the Australian university sector are more than a university problem. According to ABS data, for every $1 lost in university tuition fees, another $1.15 is lost in the broader economy from lost international student spending.

Education Minister Alan Tudge responded on Twitter, suggesting the proposal as it was reported by had not been presented to him.

“We are open to considering a pilot of international students coming into Oz,” Tudge wrote.

However he said the proposal would be contingent on ensuring quarantine beds are in addition to those used for returning Australians and the state’s CMO giving the all clear.

University sector reckons with another year of closed borders

As it’s become increasingly clear that Australia’s airtight borders won’t be opening to pre-pandemic levels in 2021, with Australia still accepting a mere 6,685 arrivals weekly across its states and territories, the sector is reckoning with yet another year of lost revenue from international students.

The university sector faces cumulative losses of up to $19 billion over the next three years due to lost international student revenue, according to Australian education and health policy think tank the Mitchell Institute.

Its modelling suggests that the next big hit will come mid-year when $2 billion in annual tuition fees is wiped from the sector as international students locked out of the country are unable to travel to Australia to start their courses for their second semester.

In mid-March the NSW Treasurer Dom Perrottet proposed that international students should be prioritised on flights to Sydney, arguing that with Education Australia’s fourth-largest export market, it should be allowed to take steps to ensure revenue losses don’t continue into 2021.

And, at the end of March, the Education Minister said he was hopeful international students will be back on Australian campuses soon, but suggested that may be as late as 2022, in a speech at Melbourne’s RMIT University.

He used the speech to urge the country’s university sector to overhaul how it approaches international students, suggesting future strategy should diversify away from China to fight skills shortages and promote regional campuses.

“This incredible growth has been good for our economy,” Tudge said at the time, “but even before COVID hit, strains were appearing and the continued rate of growth of on-campus enrolments was not sustainable.”

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