Overseas students could potentially fly in to return to study in NSW by October, in a bold plan welcomed by the education sector.
The NSW government is proposing to transform student accommodation in Sydney’s CBD into quarantine lodgings to restart its international education sector.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, tertiary education was NSW’s second largest export, generating more than $14 billion annually.
Barney Glover heads a committee of all NSW university vice chancellors, which has worked closely with the state and federal government to develop the International Student Accommodation Quarantine Program.
“I think we can see students coming within six months and I’d hope to see students arriving certainly in the early part of the second half of this year,” Professor Glover said.
He said the program would be a “modest pilot” that aimed to fly in and quarantine about 250 students each fortnight.
“That’s very much a signal to our students offshore that we are moving now more rapidly toward an opportunity to welcome them back to Australia,” Professor Glover said.
The NSW government estimates it has lost a third of its international student base this year — and it may stand to lose more as students abroad grow impatient.
Akshit Bhasin is struggling to complete his course to become a mechanic remotely from India.
“As everyone knows, a car can’t be repaired online,” Mr Bhasin said.
He is considering starting his course again in a country like Canada, which has made immigration concessions to allow international students to return to their studies on campus.
Stranded in Spain living with friends, PhD student Eva Mitgaard is hopeful the NSW Government’s quarantine program would be fast-tracked to enable her to recommence her studies in Australia after a year of remote learning.
“My research is being delayed by not being able to interact and be in Sydney where my research peers are,” she said.
“It’s very frustrating to be stuck in limbo.”
The British-Norwegian citizen, who is researching financial modelling, wants more transparency about when the federal government will open the borders to international students.
National student accommodation provider Unilodge said NSW’s plans to return foreign students had provided some certainty.
UniLodge’s Australia chief executive Tomas Johnsson said the company was among several that had expressed their interest in running the quarantine program in NSW, along with other programs planned around the country.
“I have high confidence that NSW is more likely to pull this off,” Mr Johnsson said.
“I think [the state government’s] approach overall to balance risk with reward has been the most pragmatic in the country.”
The NSW government said the program would run alongside the existing hotel quarantine system and apply the same stringent health and police processes.
A date is yet to be set for the initiative’s launch.