Building a plan for international students to return to Australia
Time crunch? Highlights:
- An industry roundtable gave the Australian government an 18-month recovery plan for the foreign education sector.
- The roadmap prioritizes continuing scholars from low-risk nations, suggests a visa package, and suggests a joint marketing campaign.
The Australian government has indicated that many travel restrictions will stay in place until mid-2022. But the country’s international education industry is still working on significant recovery measures. Peak bodies are holding monthly industry roundtables involving various experts and travel industry partners to prepare for easing present border restrictions. These conversations led to a set of rehabilitation principles that prioritize safety and low-risk student acceptance. They’ve also improved their post-study career offer for international grads and proposed faster visa processing. The sector is also coordinating with significant travel and housing providers to arrange for student charter and quarantine. Except for a restricted trial in the Northern Territory, the first state safe arrival strategy was authorized for South Australia in June 2021. The trial program, which is still ongoing, seeks to bring 160 international students to Adelaide every two weeks.
On July 29, Education Minister Alan Tudge announced a second state-level plan, this time for NSW. It would have put 250 pupils in quarantine every two weeks. But a recent rise of COVID-19 cases in Australia has impeded that endeavor and the recovery planning process. Due to an increase in cases, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian halted the student pilot. Health authorities have now extended the measures to other Victoria and New South Wales cities to slow infection rates.
The vaccination introduction in Australia has been somewhat gradual. Around 17% of eligible Australians are fully vaccinated as of August 11 2021, ranking 35th out of 38 OECD countries. At the current vaccination rate, most Australian states will achieve the 80% mark by late November or early December 2021.
In late July, at the International Education Industry Roundtable, a group of industry stakeholders presented Minister Tudge with two options. The first was a ten-year strategy for sector growth. The second set out an 18-month plan to revive international education in Australia.
Industry contributions to the government reflect a growing feeling of urgency. From the Australian Financial Review, “Australia is alone among rival nations in not having an established national plan, or significant public support [for foreign education].”
The industry roadmap proposes several solutions, including:
- Starting students in VET and ELICOS are given priority initially, followed by those from low-risk countries and those continuing in higher education, in part “to test alternative quarantine systems and vaccine policies.”
- That visa fees be reduced and renewal processes expedited to allow students to return to Australia quickly.
- New students pay no visa expenses.
- That a nationwide marketing effort is launched to promote Australia’s education brand.
Because of the ongoing pressure on Australia’s overseas enrolment, these measures are urgent. As of November 2020, a Victoria University think tank analysis predicted Australia could lose up to half of its overseas student enrollment by mid-2021. This corresponds to a loss of up to $20 billion each year, approximately half the pre-pandemic value of the sector.
In 2019, over 758,000 overseas students studied in Australia. The number of visa holders fell by over a third (-31.9 per cent) between March 2020 and June 2021, to 472,615; one-third of those – just under 160,000 students – are currently outside Australia.
In addition, this year’s data shows that factors including border laws, vaccination rates, and the availability of in-person instruction now influence student study abroad decisions. The sector is concerned that the more prolonged border closures may push students to go elsewhere.
A recent Crossroads study by IDP Connect found that students are willing to relocate this year if travel and public health regulations are clarified. “We are continuing to see students’ resilience and commitment to arrive safely and continue their studies on campus through their overwhelming willingness to comply with vaccination and quarantine policies…” stated CEO Simon Emmett. These latest findings reveal that students welcome and factored this into their desired destinations.
“The current lockout reveals that, unlike our competitor countries, our international education sector remains deprived of a social license to operate,” said Phil Honeywood, executive director of the International Education Association of Australia. The current [survey research] shows that offshore international students are losing hope of returning for face-to-face study.”
“I would like to see [some of the recovery roadmap initiatives] operational later this year,” he continued.
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