The government of Australia is constantly highlighting that the universities shouldn’t expect the inflow of international students before 2022. This is because the coronavirus pandemic has affected Australia and its education sector to a great extent. The country has once again shut down its borders to curb the spread of the virus.

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge told a press conference in April 2021 that,

“With the vaccine rollout underway, I am increasingly hopeful that student arrivals in larger numbers will occur by semester one of next year.”

For the Australian universities and their concerned authorities, 2022 seems too far. And it’s justifiably so. The majority of education institutes in Australia, from VET to ELICOS schools, are experiencing huge losses in student enrolment, revenues, and jobs due to border closures. Apart from this, the universities are facing the following losses:

  • Australian universities have enrolled 210,000 fewer students in 2021. In January, Australia welcomed only 360 students compared to last year that witnessed the arrival of 91,250 students.
  • The overall revenue for Australian universities has dropped drastically by AUS$1.8 billion. 2021 also does not seem to bring any hope as another AUS$2 loss is projected.
  • The education industry alone has lost over 17,000 jobs in one year.
  • The data released by the Federal Department of Education, Skills, and Employment revealed that nearly 164,000 of Australia’s visa-holding international students remained stranded overseas as of January 2021 due to travel restrictions.

How will the recovery phase look like?

Nothing is clear as of now. But one thing is sure that the government is “looking forward to welcoming back international students who remain overseas,” Alan Tudge added to his statement.

In the press conference, he cleared the air by saying that:

“ … [it is necessary to] rethink the on-campus business model of international education, and more broadly the international education strategy for the nation as a whole …by using international student fees to fund research, universities have undermined the learning experience of domestic students and failed to address skills shortages.”

He wants the education industry to become more digital and introduce better tools and sources to impart online classes.

Recently, the Morrison Government also announced to provide over $53 million of targeted support for international education providers affected by COVID-19 border closures.

Minister for Education and Youth Alan Tudge said the measures would benefit thousands of domestic and international students and Australian businesses who support local jobs.

No international students mean huge losses

The Mitchell Institute has projected the closed borders could cost the education sector $20 BN a year in 2022. In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic and problems with Australia’s vaccine rollout could cause a continued fall in university admissions through 2021 and 2022.

The institute has forecasted that the sector’s most enormous losses are yet to come. And, if the situation persists, it would cost Australia about A$20 billion a year, half its pre-pandemic value.

Peter Hurley, a policy analyst, said that even if the government allows the entry of a few international students to the country, it won’t make much difference in the revenue. Between March 2020 and March 2021, the number of international student visa holders dropped by about 140,000. It depicts about 70,000 new international students must enter Australia every six months to stop enrolments falling further.

Students appeal to the government

In January 2021, over 10,000 international students signed a petition urging the government to open the borders.

The petition said:

“International students are willing to quarantine, obey any rules and pay all the fees. We are willing to quarantine in student apartments and will not take any stranded Australians’ places. Please allow international students, who do not have online lessons and urgently need to enter Australia to study, to go back to their schools and continue their education on a voluntary basis.”

Agents facing numerous challenges

The majority of Australian educators depend on agents to get international students. More than three-quarters of international students come to Australia through agents only. In March, the International Student Education Agents Association (ISEAA) warned that the Covid-19 has “eroded 60% of their business”. Around 60-70% of agencies also got shut down.

Key measures to ensure safe arrival of international students

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge has said that the government is ready to discuss how they plan to welcome international students in small numbers with state and territorial governments. However, he is yet to get such proposals. Phil Honeywood, chief of the International Education Association of Australia, has said that NSW Australia, ACT, and the Northern Territory have their plans ready, but “Victoria is still at the board stage.” He said soon they will present strategies for the safe and smooth arrival of overseas students.

In Victoria, many educators are funding the quarantine for international students. Universities are also proposing to partly fund the “special hotel lockdown arrangements” of students. Chinese and Indian students will be given priority, considering many students come from these two nations.

Nothing can be predicted as of now. Therefore, all we can say is to stay hopeful and wait for things to get better as soon as possible. It’s the only way to keep our dreams of studying abroad alive in these challenging times.

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