Within the next six to eight weeks, 250 international students per fortnight will be able to return to New South Wales under a pilot plan by the NSW Government and universities.
The plan will prioritise students in the medical health disciplines who are required to complete clinical placements. Postgraduate research students and those nearing the end of their degrees will also be given priority.
Earlier this year, NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet announced that large numbers of international students wouldn’t return until 2022. If this remains true, many undergraduate students will still not be able to return to campus this year.
Universities will be allocated a number of seats on a private plane based on the proportion of international students they had in 2019. Students will then spend their 14-day quarantine in purpose-built accommodation which will operate like the existing system.
Students will need a valid Australian Student Visa and a negative COVID-19 test pre-departure.
The plan is expected to be scaled up to 500 students returning each fortnight by the end of the year.
Universities will have to foot the bill for the scheme. This comes after a lack of government support for the university sector throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic. University staff were unable to claim JobKeeper payments, the Job-Ready Graduates Program saw fee-hikes across popular courses, and the 2021 federal budget included a 9.3% decrease in university funding over the next four years.
International students are a crucial aspect of the NSW economy, said Perrottet. “Typically we have more than 250,000 international students studying in NSW each year and they directly supported over 95,000 jobs prior to the pandemic. If we don’t act fast, students will turn to other overseas destinations and it could take the sector decades to recover.”
Data from the Department of Education saw International student enrolments down 17% from last year across Australian universities.
The NSW Government is currently awaiting Commonwealth approval. However, Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge said the plan appeared to meet the government criteria.