The Covid-19 surge in Australia is threatening plans for student return

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The state government of New South Wales has placed on hold its proposal to allow international students to return home after the state government unveiled a trial plan for a limited-phased return of international students in June.

As a result of the most recent lockdown, there has been a pause in the implementation of this pilot initiative, which could mean that the much-anticipated arrival of international students in Australia is pushed back even further. This is unwelcome news for the thousands of students studying remotely who are eagerly awaiting the possibility of coming to Australia to continue their education.

As of the time of this writing, Australia’s borders had been blocked for 503 days total. Since the entry bank took place on March 20, 2020, overseas students have been denied admission and have received little information about their programme and future.

In 2021, the total number of international students enrolling in Australian universities is expected to drop by a significant margin. Because students are increasingly looking for alternatives to their home nations, the country risks losing its competitiveness in the international education sector if the current trend continues.

In the past financial year alone, the country’s economy suffered a loss of about $6 billion as a result of the decline in international student enrolment, which fell by more than 100,000. When compared to the previous year, education exports decreased by 21.4 per cent in 2020, while international student commencements decreased by over 20 per cent in 2021.

In addition to the obvious financial loss, the impact of this collapse can be seen in the widespread layoffs of university staff across the country’s major institutions. In Melbourne, for example, La Trobe University announced 200 layoffs as a result of a $165 million income drop.

The influence on local communities and businesses is already being seen, as overseas students make up a significant portion of the workforce for small and medium-sized enterprises around Australia.

Despite the claims of the federal government, Australia continues to be the most behind the eight other OECD countries in the administration of Covid-19 vaccines to its adult populations. The country’s population has been vaccinated to a level of less than 16 per cent as of now, and it may take another seven months until the current national immunisation goal is met.

According to the prime minister, the country will need to vaccinate 80 per cent of its adult population before it will even consider reopening its border. It has been suggested that this may only be doable by the end of the year by the Grattan Institute, an Australian public policy think tank

In addition, it is being argued that Australia must change its approach to handling Covid-19, and that waiting for the number of instances to reach zero is no longer a feasible option. A proactive approach is preferable, as is taking inspiration from the methods of other forward-looking democratic countries, such as taking a careful and measured approach to opening up to the rest of the world, rather than reacting reactively.

In the future, the Australian federal government may wish to consider a careful and progressive opening of its borders to international students and other necessary travellers, as well as studying the possibility of instituting a vaccine-visa regime.

As more of Australia’s population has been vaccinated, the government may also consider stepping away from the Fortress Australia approach.

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