22 February 2021

Barr pushes for international student flights, vaccination before arrival

| Dominic Giannini
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Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has proposed alternating flights for repatriated Australians and international students. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has floated the idea of the ACT receiving one flight of international students for every repatriation flight to help boost the Territory’s education sector.

The rollout of the vaccine – which began in the ACT yesterday (22 February) – strengthened the argument to commence a pilot program of returning international students, Mr Barr said.

“We have been working with the universities and the airlines so that as soon we get the green light from the Commonwealth to issue the visas [we are] able to go pretty quickly on bringing students back,” he told Committee Hearings on Monday.

Mr Barr said he would also recommend to the Prime Minister and his National Cabinet colleagues that returning students be vaccinated before coming to Australia.

“That would be an Australian Government decision because they control the international borders; I think it would be advisable,” he said.

“There are potential circumstances where the vaccination may not be available in the country of origin of the student, but you’d then seek to make arrangements in Australia for that to occur, but they are decisions the Commonwealth would make.”

Speaking at a media event for the ACT’s first vaccine recipient, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt did not directly say whether vaccines would be required but said that the current quarantine arrangements would remain in place regardless of the person’s vaccination status.

READ MORE Frontline health worker the first Canberran to get the jab

“All the medical advice that we have is that the quarantine system will remain in place for the time being, subject to consistent review, irrespective of whether or not vaccinations have occurred,” he said.

“At this stage, we are vaccinating in Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is considering the question of those Australians who are serving overseas and, of course, what we are looking at is bringing Australians home.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt and ACT Health Minister Rachel Steven-Smith oversaw Canberra’s first vaccination on Monday (22 February). Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Mr Barr originally wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison with the proposal in December, but no final agreement has been reached.

“I propose to pilot the return of international students by alternating incoming flights of vulnerable Australians with flights of international students,” the Chief Minister wrote.

“The ACT Government has agreed on funding arrangements with the universities for the pilot period.

“Returning international students are important to underpin our economic recovery. I trust this proposal demonstrates our commitment to assist in returning vulnerable Australians, while balancing the need to support economic recovery in the ACT.”

Each student provides $50,000 to the local economy while education became the ACT’s first billion-dollar export industry, Mr Barr said.

The ACT Government would pay for the security and COVID-related health checks while the university and the students would pay for accommodation and mental health and wellbeing services.

The original plan would have entailed the first flight of international students landing in January and universities would begin accepting international students from mid-February.

Flights would then have continued to alternate until Easter and beyond if possible, Mr Barr proposed.

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Only in the last fortnight the Chinese government attacked our education system for “providing low quality teaching”.

Bring back our stranded Australians in the first instance. Then bring in the international students – Chinese students being the last in line.

HiddenDragon8:30 pm 23 Feb 21

Presumably all the foreign students who were stranded here with no job and no federal government support – as discussed in threads on this site last year – are now back in work and self-reliant. With the extended Jobkeeper coming to an end in just over a month, and with thousands of Canberrans still receiving it, let’s hope so.

Stephen Saunders2:11 pm 23 Feb 21

No to you, Andrew, and no to the ANU VC. The first priority should be to get the locals back.

COVID is an unexpected opportunity to break away from the Big Australia migration racket that has distorted the Australian economy for 15 years. It’s an opportunity that LibLab is determined to spurn.

Capital Retro6:50 pm 23 Feb 21

You know I don’t agree with you with much but I do on this.

Australia’s economy has become totally dependent on the residential building industry which is driven by immigration and getting students back will be more grist for the mill.

It’s a giant Ponzi scheme – Canberra is the epitome of it.

On the broader question of immigration, I get the view. But what suggestions do people have for making our university sector viable? Because rightly or wrongly, governments of both colours have painted them into the current corner they are in.

Perhaps universities could actually go back to being more about educating people rather than constantly trying to expand and grow as if they are businesses competing against each other.

The uncapping of university places has led them all to attempt to take in as many students as possible and chasing foreign student dollars rather than fulfilling their core purpose.

Capital Retro9:12 am 24 Feb 21

They could cease sponsorship of professional sports for a start.

Not sure it is Governments that have painted them into a corner, more that they have been enabled to paint themselves into a corner. They have been allowed to build their entire business model around the income from international students, and based on it have over-extended themselves. Now they have bills to pay and are missing a large part of that income they had banked on. Still somewhat irresponsible without COVID, because a huge portion of those students come from China, and the CCP could change their mind about letting their people travel here at any time, for any reason.

Oh please. They have been forced to build their business model around the income from international students – governments of both persuasions have actively encouraged such a model to ‘reduce the public teat’ as some of the more blase will say.

And who chewy made the decision of uncapping of uni places in the first place? This all stems ultimately from Government decisions. I don’t disagree – but to make the model stack up (which invariably is subsidisation of domestic places that are underfunded) they’ve had little choice bar to chase the international dollar.

I agree that they need to be less about the ‘business’ and more about ‘education’, but to do that they need to be enabled to be able to do that. And that needs a total rethink from the C/W on its broader higher education ‘strategy’, if one can make an actual argument that we really have one….

Whilst I would agree that the Federal government has set the framework and playing field that the Unis are operating in, it’s the Uni’s themselves that have chosen how they are going to play the game.

The only reason they “have” to chase the foreign student dollar is to meet their own business objectives of growing as big as possible and attempting to be better than the competition.

The government has put some cake on the table but it’s the Uni’s who chose to gorge themselves on it.

Look locally at the ANU and UC. They’ve been acting more like property developers recently rather than Universities. And it’s all about attempting to get bigger and capture a larger market share. Covid has really laid bare the risks that they were taking.

But I also agree with you that it is the government who needs to take the lead on fixing these issues. The easiest way to achieve this would be to either bring back a cap back on university places, or increasing costs to students such that the limited resources available could be directed to where they would be used most efficiently and would deliver the most value.

Unfortunately both of those options have been tried and screamed down from the advocates and lobby groups who think funding is unlimited and that university education should be free and for all who wish to attend.

Nobody held a gun to the Chancellors head and said “You must rely on income from foreign students and expand to a level where you can’t do without them!”, so no, they weren’t forced. It was facilitated and encouraged, but never forced.

Capital Retro4:59 pm 25 Feb 21

The influence of the Chinese facilitators over our educators rivals the skills of the Euro tram salesmen over the ACT government.

Capital Retro9:44 am 23 Feb 21

“Each student provides $50,000 to the local economy”

While I am not doubting that claim, could someone expand on it? Is it over 12 months and how is it broken up?

Capital Retro11:18 am 25 Feb 21

No one seems to know but I heard CM Barr on ABC radio say the $50,000 a year includes the fees to the universities and all the students’ living expenses.

Mmm, most of these students come from China which is still a developing country. How many families would be able to fork out $50K a year for 4 – 5 years for one of their children to be educated at a tertiary level. In other words, who is subsidising this?

China may well be a developing country with many that are very poor.

It does however have a massive (millions) middle to upper class where that kind of money is nothing.

Capital Retro7:45 am 26 Feb 21

Fair point JC. So, wouldn’t it be a great move if our rich universities and progressive ACT government offered some scholarships to the very poor Chinese students?

So, happy to expose the ACT to an outbreak in the quest for revenue? Awesome.

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