#LetUsBackToAus: Int’l Students Stuck Overseas Urge Education Minister to Let Them Return to Australia

United under the hashtag #LetUsBackToAus on social media, international students enrolled at Australian universities but who continue to pursue studies remotely from their home countries have asked the Australian Education Minister, Alan Tudge, to allow them to return to the country and continue in-person learning.

Last week, during Universities Australia Higher Education Conference 2021, Minister Tudge spoke about the future of the Australian education system and pointed out that COVID-19 and border closures had impacted some important sectors, including higher education. Yet, Tudge said that the impact on enrolments has not been as bad as expected, Erudera.com reports.

Following the conference, international students voiced deep concerns about the Minister’s statement to make domestic students a priority for in-person learning.

In a letter sent to Minister Alan Tudge, international students wrote that all students, whether domestic or international, should be treated the same as education is not a privilege but a right of every student.

‘We shouldn’t be looked at as international or domestic students but as students of the Australian education system,” students wrote.

It was earlier reported that international students might be able to return to South Australia after the state’s Chief Public Health Officer signed off on a plan to allow students’ entry into the country if the plan is approved by the federal government.

Nonetheless, students claim that despite announcements about pilot programs to bring them back, no actions have been undertaken yet, adding that not only onshore students have been affected by the pandemic, as their situation is even worse.

While they call to be allowed to return to Australia, students reveal that Minister Tudge has even started to block them from his Twitter account.

Victorian Universities Re-Proposed Plan Over Int’l Students Return, Tudge Said Govt Should Be “Very Cautious” About It

In an attempt to bring international students back, a few months ago universities in Victoria proposed an existing plan to assist around 1,000 international students returning to Melbourne every fortnight.

Nevertheless, the Minister, Alan Tudge, advised the federal government to be “very cautious” about Victoria’s proposal, claiming that quarantine plans for other people than returning Australians should be carefully looked at. At the same time, Victorian authorities projected that number of international students in the state will remain low until the mid of 2025 compared to numbers before the COVID-19 broke out.

Several other Australian states declared they are considering plans to return international students, however, they did not proceed with those proposals. The first group of around 70 international students arrived in the city of Darwin for the first time since Australia closed its borders in March 2020, due to the pandemic.

93% Of Australia’s Int’l Students Stuck Overseas Reported Mental Health Issues

According to a survey assembled by the Council of International Student Australia (CISA) including more than 600 students, 93 percent of international students enrolled at Australian universities remaining abroad said they are struggling with mental health issues due to remote studies.

Moreover, results showed that 36 percent of student participants in the survey said they are considering or have decided to move to another country to pursue their higher education studies.

“They asked for answers, saying: ‘tell us when we can come back because I can’t plan my life or live like this anymore.” CISA national president Belle said, highlighting that the organization has repeatedly been reached by students stuck overseas over the last year.

As a result of the pandemic, universities in Australia have seen a sharp fall in the number of new international students, the federal government data have revealed. Between 2020 and 2021, there were 43,000 fewer international students pursuing higher education in Australia.

Several universities in Australia reported a decrease in new international enrolments in 2021, especially universities in New South Wales and Victoria. Melbourne’s Monash University reported a 32 percent decline in new international student commencements, whereas the University of Technology Sydney saw a 35 decrease during the first semester of 2021.

“Bringing Australians home – especially vulnerable Australians – remains the Australian Government’s priority.  International students are an important part of the Australian community and will be welcomed back to Australia when conditions allow. The Australian Government is working with states and territories to support international student arrivals when conditions allow,” a spokesperson for the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills, and Employment told Erudera in early 2021.

The spokespersons also said that Australia closing the borders has been critical to slowing the spread of COVID-19.

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