Australia Lacks Political Will to Return International Students, Expert Says

Australia must reopen its international borders as soon as possible, if not to everyone, at least to international students who enrolled in a course at a recognized provider, are fully vaccinated and who complete two weeks of hotel quarantine, New Generation Network Scholar in Education at University of Melbourne, Andrew Deuchar has said.

According to him, there doesn’t appear to be much political interest to implement such a strategy, taking into consideration that many Australian citizens are still stuck abroad, unable to return home.

“Unfortunately, there is not much of a political appetite to implement such as strategy given the number of Australian citizens who are stranded abroad and are unable to return home. But the case for creating schemes that make it possible for international students to return will be strengthened with more media reportage that showcases their strengths, capacities and contributions,” Deuchar told Erudera College News.

He added that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed many of the challenges that international students have been facing, and not just in Australia but also in many countries worldwide, including the US, the UK and Canada. According to him, the next part of Australia’s approach to international students’ return concerns how students will be supported after arriving in the country.

A report by the Mitchell Institute for Education and Health Policy indicated that Australia has seen 210,000 fewer international students “than would otherwise be expected”, yet data by the Australian Department of Education, Skills and Employment show 69,427 fewer enrollments between July 2019 and 2021.

“From the 29th of March to October 25th 2020, there was a reduction of around 75,000 currently enrolled international students. As of October 25th 2020, there were approximately 135,000 international students outside Australia and 400,000 in Australia,” Mitchell Institute report noted.

Despite the government’s ban on international students entering Australia since March 20 last year, Deuchar said that many of them would still come to Australia if they could. He added that the question for Australian education providers is “how they can leverage their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic to appeal to international students when international borders reopen.”

“It’s true that many prospective international students are frustrated by Australia’s decision to close its borders for a prolonged period. But that isn’t to say that Australia’s reputation is being damaged. In truth, many international students would still come here if they could, precisely because it’s reputation as a world class provider of education remains intact,” Deuchar stressed.

The international education sector in Australia is now worth $30bn, a decline from $40 billion in 2019, as last year, Australia lost 100,000 international students due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has now been 558 days since international students were barred from entering Australia. Students have constantly called on universities and other competent bodies to help them in this regard, especially with Twitter hashtags #LetUsBackToAus.

In the meantime, the Department of Education has reiterated that international students will be able to return gradually to Australia by the end of this year with small phased programs. A spokesperson for the Department told Erudera that the Australian government is developing a new strategy over 2021-2023 to recover and strengthen the international education sector.

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