Safe Corridors for the Return of Foreign Students: To be Proposed by Australian Universities

The Australian Universities are working on a proposal that defines ‘safe corridors’, allowing international students to return for their studies. The step has been taken in view of the current situation that demands the lucrative internal education sector to be rescued.

The group of eight leading Australian Universities- Go8, has presented the proposal to the state and the federal governments to introduce ‘safe corridors’ for international students to try to recover the losses.

Considering the fact that international students bring about A$39 billion a year into Australia, and account for about 26% of the total university revenue, the proposal was indeed a necessity. Bearing the brunt of the ban on international arrivals, and hence, the loss of foreign students, the country is already facing a financial collapse which could further worsen if it continues into the next year.

As per The Sydney Morning Herald report, the plan would allow students to enter from countries where Covid-19 outbreaks are under control. According to the proposed plan, such foreign students would be required to isolate themselves and undergo a health check-up in their home countries before travelling on flights arranged with specific airlines to Australia; upon arriving where they would be transferred by the universities to a quarantine accommodation and will be under supervision.

Though not stated directly, there is some signal from the federal government that it is considering to exempt international students from the travel ban, with effect from July. If this happens, the current students will be able to resume second semester studies, on campus.

Greg Hunt, the Health Minister has stated that the government is open to the idea of allowing universities to consider finding safe ways to bring in international students. He also added, “We have indicated we are welcoming of proposals for universities- to look at a means of bringing back- through supervised, stringent quarantine- international students.”

Australia’s largest state, the government of New South Wales, has also expressed support for allowing the return of foreign students, subject to the mandatory 14-day quarantine that is applicable for all arrivals. Ever since the travel ban was imposed, more than 15,000 Australians have entered the state from overseas and been quarantined.

So far, Australia has avoided a serious Covid-19 outbreak. As on May 29, 2020, there were 17 cases, down from a peak of 460 new infections which were reported in late March. Also, the most recent cases have had known sources and included people who are in quarantine after their return from overseas. Overall, Australia has 7,173 cases and 103 casualties.

Because of the travel ban, international students – around 120,000 students or 20 per cent of the total expected have been unable to travel to Australia, whereas, 758,154 international students moved to Australia last year. This included 442,219 in universities and 283,893 in vocational colleges. Of this, 28 per cent of them are Chinese students, followed by Indian students (17%), Nepalese (8%), Vietnamese (4%), and Brazilians (3%). Also, out of the 8,318 Singaporeans studying in Australia, 7,115 were at universities.

As per the estimation by Universities Australia- a peak university body, the loss of foreign students due to Covid-19 has put 21,000 jobs at risk. It also states that the universities are facing losses to the tune of $3 billion to $4.6 billion in revenue.

This week, Deakin University has proposed cutting 300 staff members as it is faced with a loss of A$250 million to A$300 million in revenue over the coming year. Consequently, many universities have introduced wage cuts and hiring freezes.

Thus, it is up to the government to look for a solution to this crisis, given that some foreign students do not wish to return in case they cannot resume their studies next semester.

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