International students have welcomed news of a pilot program from the ACT Government to bring 350 overseas students back to the Australian National University (ANU) and University of Canberra (UC).
Thousands of students were left in limbo overseas when the Australian Government closed its borders in March, having already shut its border to China at the start of February.
Jerry* – a third-year artificial intelligence student at ANU – has been stuck in China’s Hubei province, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, and had to postpone his flights to Canberra because of the shutdown.
“I thought I would have a better chance and be able to see the world better in Australia, so I came to Australia,” he said, telling Region Media how eager he was to return to Canberra.
“ANU has been very helpful, they have got an online lab, I can [still] work with my tutors and go online for a video meeting one-on-one, but the internet here is kind of difficult.”
Jerry also needs to access specialised computer equipment for his studies which has impeded his research because labs are harder to access in China.
“I live far away from the laboratory and I need scientific computers to do coding and programming,” he said.
“If I want I can go to the lab here but I cannot do it every day like I could on campus.”
UC Vice-Chancellor Professor Paddy Nixon said the plan is to charter a flight from an Asia-Pacific country and bring currently enrolled international students back to Australia by mid-July.
Around 2800 international students from ANU and more than 400 from UC remain offshore.
An email from ANU to its international students who are stranded overseas has informed them that the universities are working together to bring a small number of them back through the pilot program.
Jerry says he wants to be on the first flight to Australia and intends to sign up straight away so he can complete his studies and graduate from ANU, with only one-semester left for his degree.
The same isolation and health protocols would apply to international students under the scheme that were in place for the Australian residents who recently arrived in the ACT from India and Nepal.
Students will have to do a 14-day mandatory quarantine period, which will be paid for by the university. However, all students will need to pay for their own flights to Australia.
Australia’s border is likely to remain closed for tourists until at least 2021, Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said.
*Names have been changed for the purpose of this story.