12 July 2020

Unis put international student return plan on ice after COVID-19 upswing

| Ian Bushnell
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ANU Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt

ANU Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt says ”this is not an end to the program – just a delay”. Photo: File.

The rapidly changing COVID-19 situation has stymied plans for hundred of international university students to return to Canberra for Semester 2.

The Australian National University and the University of Canberra have decided to postpone their ‘Safe Passage’ pilot program, developed in consultation with the ACT and Federal Governments, until there is a clearer picture of the trajectory of the new COVID-19 outbreak.

The pilot plan involved a charter flight from an Asia-Pacific country bringing 350 currently enrolled international students back to Canberra by mid-July.

They would have recommenced their Semester 2 studies on campus following 14 days of police-supervised quarantine in apartment-style accommodation.

Strict protocols and testing were planned to be in place for their flights, transfers and supervised quarantine, with all students needing to return a negative test before leaving quarantine.

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said the university remained committed to ensuring the students could continue their studies in Australia when the time was right.

“We always said we would only undertake this program when it was safe for both our students, our campuses and the wider community. This is not an end to the program – just a delay,” he said.

“In the meantime, we will continue to support our students currently overseas so they can complete their studies with as little disruption as possible.”

University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor Professor Paddy Nixon echoed the sentiments, saying the health and safety of students, staff, the university communities and that of the broader community had always come first.

“Given the ever-evolving circumstance of this global pandemic, we think it best to press pause on our plans to return a small number of our valued continuing international students who contribute so much to the vibrancy of our city and our campus,” he said.

The move is another blow to the ACT’s higher education sector which is likely to lose millions of dollars in revenue because of COVID-19. Overseas students also contribute more than $1 billion a year to the local economy.

The 350 students would have been only a fraction of the estimated 3200 that have been unable to come back to Canberra.

The universities thanked the Prime Minister, Education Minister, Home Affairs Minister and ACT Chief Minister for their support for the pilot program and look forward to rolling it out at a later date.

Under the pilot program, students would have to pay their own airfares, but the universities would have paid for hotel accommodation and meals during quarantine, ANU Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt told Radio National in June.

The same isolation and health protocols would have applied to the international students that were in place for the Australian residents who recently arrived in the ACT from India and Nepal.

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