Hundreds of international students will be welcomed back to New South Wales before the end of the year, but students from China and Nepal will likely be excluded from the pilot plan announced by the state government.
- Students who received vaccines developed in China would likely be excluded
- Students will not be counted towards federal government caps on returning citizens
- Universities will cover the cost of the quarantine but students will pay for the flights
In early December, 500 students from around the world will be allowed to travel to Australia on two chartered flights.
Western Sydney University Vice Chancellor Barney Glover, who heads a planning committee for the pilot, said plane tickets would be paid for by students but universities would cover the cost of the quarantine.
“It’s a very small initial pilot, but it’s an important signal that we are opening up again to international students,” he said.
The global program will only be eligible for students fully vaccinated with vaccines recognized by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), including Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.
This means that students who received vaccines like Sinovac and Sinopharm, both developed by Chinese pharmaceutical companies, would likely be excluded from the program because they were not approved by the TGA at the moment.
“We encourage ATAGI (The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization) and TGA to act quickly on this item to work on reciprocal vaccination agreements for unapproved vaccines so that we can open up more widely,” said Professor Glover.
However, Professor Glover said he understands the importance of starting the pilot program with vaccines approved by the TGA.
Deputy Prime Minister John Barilaro said the staggered return of students was the first step in the slowly developing pilot project and that students would not count towards the federal government’s ceilings for the return of citizens.
“It is important to note that this plan will not come at the expense of any Australian citizen or resident wishing to return home,” he said.
Universities Australia CEO Catriona Jackson praised the New South Wales government for “being so determined” to lead the country in the return of international students.
“It is really important that there is a state movement, so we applaud the Vice Chancellors of NSW and the state government for making this decision,” Ms. Jackson said.
“International students have made a significant investment in their education in Australia and it will be great to see them back in safe ways and robust quarantine measures.”
Belle Lim, who is a Malaysian international student and president of the Council of International Students Australia, said students who have been forced to return to their home countries are desperate to return to Australia.
She said many had put their lives “on hold” and although they could study outside, jet lag and lack of social connection were taking its toll.
“Having your life interrupted like this without any concrete plan… was very difficult for the students,” Ms. Lim said.
“The fact that students have paid very high tuition fees to study in Australia but not being able to experience it is a great financial and mental strain on the students, so this news is welcome.”
Before the pandemic, around 250,000 international students were studying in New South Wales and were the state’s second export.
The state government said 57,000 international students are currently trying to enter New South Wales.
Ms Lim said there would be an overwhelming demand from students to return, but the plan included a “triage system” to identify students most in need of face-to-face learning.
Priority will be given to doctoral students, those who have almost completed their studies, and students studying medicine and health-related courses.
Ms. Lim said international students felt “in conflict” over the strict vaccination requirements.
“Students must be treated fairly and equitably… we will continue to stand up for all international students, but we are cooperative.
“We think they will take that into account and do their best.”
Accommodation provider Scape will host returning students for their mandatory 14-day quarantine at Redfern in central Sydney.