The NSW government has approved a plan to bring back international students as soon as August and quarantine them in university accommodation

A surprising number of Australian students are cheating on their courses
(Photo by Rolf Schulten/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
  • NSW says it will begin accepting international students within months with a program that excludes the Federal Government and will likely be paid for by the university sector.
  • The proposal has been accepted by the NSW Premier and will allow students to quarantine in purpose-built housing in Sydney.
  • The NSW State Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said he supported the program and promised it would not take spaces away from Australians returning to the country.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

International students have been approved to return to NSW as soon as August as part of a new plan pushed by the state’s university sector.

A proposal to get international students back into the state’s universities has been accepted by the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet, in a promising sign the state’s universities may recover lost revenue after a brutal year of job cuts and financial losses.

The announcement comes following a Federal Budget that delivered further cuts to the sector, and confirmation that international borders would not reopen until 2022.

State treasurer, Dominic Perrottet told the Australian on Thursday initial arrivals are expected to begin imminently, but made assurances the program would not take spaces from Australians returning to the country.

“We are close to finalising a plan to start bringing back students very soon over the coming months, ideally for the start of the second semester this year,” Perrottet said, adding that the plan sought to support universities without preventing Australians from returning.

“This is about finding a way to bring students back but not at the expense of the weekly cap of Australian citizens arriving back in NSW,” he said.

“If we don’t address this issue then I believe we’ll have an industry on its knees and one that will look elsewhere.”

However the proposal stands in sharp contrast with the federal government’s stated goal of prioritising the more than 34,000 Australians currently overseas who wish to return home but are unable to do so due to international arrival caps.

Since the pandemic began, trapping some international students in the country and locking others out, the university sector — facing losses of up to $19 billion over the next three years due to missed international student revenue — has been endeavouring to return overseas students to in-person learning.

With 43,000 fewer international students enrolled at Australian universities compared with 2020, multiple attempts have been made to sidestep national arrival caps, including a chartered flight by Charles Darwin University of 63 students into Australia at the end of November 2020, and a similar but failed proposal put to the state government by a group of Victorian universities in early April.

The NSW proposal will allow overseas students to enter the state and quarantine in purpose-built housing in Sydney, outside of the state government’s hotel quarantine sites.

Phil Honeywood, the chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia, told Guardian Australia that a 600-bed student accommodation site had already been approved to be converted into quarantine.

Under the plan, returning international students would be quarantined in the converted accommodation for 14 days, with arrivals counted under a separate arrival cap to that of returning Australian citizens and other international arrivals.

Initially the plan would aim to bring in a few hundred students for semester two to “prove the model”, Honeywood said.

He said the program would use chartered flights rather than taking commercial seats from returning Australians as well as the alternative quarantine setting rather than hotels.

“They are only going to start with small numbers to begin with, in the low hundreds, in order to prove the model,” he said.

Honeywood also said the quarantine site, which is an empty student accommodation building, had been inspected by both the government and police.

“Approval has been given for one of them, potentially two, to be used as the student return plan for quarantine,” he said.

While the proposal has the backing of the NSW government, it now requires the approval of federal education minister Alan Tudge to go ahead.

The NSW government estimates that students bring $14.6 billion a year into the state, money that may now be travelling with students to countries with more open borders including the UK and the US that compete with Australia for students.

Though international students are currently studying online at Australian universities, recent reports surveying student sentiment have found that the majority of students prefer in-person learning.

An April report from Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute found that only 7% of international students enrolled at Australian universities were willing to study purely online, with the vast majority saying they would only enrol if they could “transition to face-to-face” learning.