International Students may not Return to Australia until 2022

Wednesday, 31 Mar 2021

International Students may not Return to Australia until 2022

International students are not set to return en masse to Australian universities until the beginning of 2022. Individual academic institutions may, however, bring in students from overseas during this year if health officers agree and safe quarantine locations are established.

Australia’s Education Minister Alan Tudge is set to deliver a speech today at RMIT University in Melbourne where he is expected to say the disruption to the onshore, on-campus business model of international education during 2020 “forces a rethink” of the international education strategy of the nation.

Australia is the world’s third-largest provider of international education, behind the USA and the UK, with student numbers doubling in the past decade. Of these enrolments, students from China now account for around one-third.

International student numbers dropped 7% in 2020 compared with the previous year but there were still 686,100 enrolments.

Mr Tudge will say that this “incredible growth” of international education within the country has been good for the economy but that “even before COVID hit, strains were appearing and the continued rate of growth of on-campus enrolments was not sustainable”.

When exactly international students return to Australia is dependent on the success of the vaccination program and the implementation of a “global authentication system” for vaccine passports.

The education minister expects more “clarity” on these issues by mid-year when more certainty on border openings is also predicted.

According to his speech notes, Mr Tudge will say there is some “opportunity to bring students back in small, phased pilots.”

Several pilots designed to bring a small number of international students back to Australia were announced during 2020 but most were suspended or delayed, except for one in the Northern Territory.

Mr Tudge believes Destination Australia, a program aiming to lure overseas students to regional campuses, could be altered to target disciplines in skill shortage areas such as engineering and IT.

In addition to the above, the education minister will announce plans to put universities on notice for using international student revenues to fund research. He is expected to say this undermines the learning experience of domestic students and fails to address skill shortages.

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