Ongoing uncertainty and rock-bottom enrolment levels cause universities to plead for a clearer idea of when international students will be welcomed back to Australia.
One of Australia’s most superior University Chief’s has urged for a more transparent outlook and welcoming stance towards international students’ return to Australia, amid fears that their absence will cause devastating economic effects.
International student education is worth 40 billion dollars to the national economy, and universities worry that without a more clarified direction for the future, Australia could be at risk of losing out in market share of this lucrative sector to the UK and China, amongst other countries.
The Australian National University vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt has explained that the Prime Minister needed to take a step forward in creating a more concrete strategy for the future; as international student enrolments continue to drop.
Despite the successes we have had in battling the pandemic in comparison to other countries, it seems that Scott Morrison is continuing to be cautious in making sure we maintain firm control over COVID-19 across all states.
Nevertheless, the uncertainty and lack of response regarding international students creates an uneasy and clouded vision for any forms of improvement for enrolments going forward into the new year, which in turn, will drive international students elsewhere.
Schmidt conceded that a more positive message needed to be sent out to individuals across the globe wishing to study in Australia, to create a more encouraging prospect for welcoming them back as soon as is safe to do so. If not, universities fear our economic recovery could take much longer than we hoped.
"Unfortunately I don't think there's any prospect at this point of having very many students back at the beginning of first semester. It's just not on the cards," said Professor Schmidt, “Semester two or even 2022 was more realistic.”
"It would be really helpful if we could have a message coming from the Prime Minister welcoming students back, but with a realistic set of parameters," Professor Schmidt stated.
"A supportive message that says, 'Yes, we are going to take our time, but when you are here it is going to be safe and we're really going to look after you.' I don't think we've really had that welcoming stance out there."
Mr Morrison concluded that international students were an "important part" of the country's services trade but that "Australian citizens and residents returning first, that is the priority for hotel quarantine in Australia". The government were to remain "open" to suggestions regarding the eventual return of international students, he said, so long as hotel quarantine can maintain a safe capacity.
But Professor Schmidt cautioned that without a more dedicated approach, a devastating loss of talent to our country could be an unfortunately true occurrence.
"What I don't think we want as a nation is having all these prospective students go off to the UK, Canada, the US or to Europe, and not come to Australia because they are not feeling welcome," he said.
Professor Schmidt added that high-alert on-campus quarantine should be considered, with university accommodation readily available. The mere obstacle of overwhelmed hotel quarantine should not mean that international students should be completely overlooked, and more ideas and proposals needed to be reviewed. The low appetite for Australians and the government to take on risk needed to be reassessed in a safe and secure way.
"We need to convince the chief health officers this is a safe way to do it," Professor Schmidt warned as he worried we could be leaving it too late, where universities and the economy will suffer a great burden as a result.
Written by Sophie Cunningham; 11th January 2021