New South Wales (NSW) Premier Gladys Berejiklian has confirmed that the state is pausing its pilot plan to facilitate the return of international students to Australia while the state remains in lockdown. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the state government has not set a date for an end to the lockdown, but a lengthy extension would push the programme’s start date into the later months of the year, further delaying plans to ramp up the student intake ahead of semester one next year.
Berejiklian said yesterday (July 13) that the government would not do anything to compromise its ability to exit the lockdown as quickly as possible. “We will look at all those issues once we exit the lockdown. Whilst we are in lockdown, our absolute obsession is to get us out of lockdown. We all know the challenge that poses but know that by working together we will get there,” she was quoted saying.
According to local reports, lockdown restrictions for greater Sydney, the Central Coast, Blue Mountains and Wollongong have been extended by at least another two weeks after 97 new cases were reported. Of those, 24 cases were infectious while in the community, said 9news.
Berejiklian said home learning would continue for at least another two weeks. She added that they would know at the end of two weeks to what extent they need to extend the lockdown and whether there is any chance of face-to-face schooling ending.
Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge said the state government had made the right call in pausing the NSW pilot plan. “As the premier has made clear, NSW is focused on getting out of the current lockdown and reducing case numbers. That is the right approach,” he was quoted saying. “We’ll continue to work with states and territories on proposals to return international students when conditions allow. As always, we’ll be guided by the health advice and keep the safety of Australians as our number one priority.”
NSW pilot plans up in the air
Earlier this month, the National Cabinet agreed to a four-phase plan to reopen the country, which will depend on Australians getting vaccinated. Phase one permits pilot programmes for “limited entry of student and economic visa holders,” but caps on the number of students entering the country will be imposed in later phases, complicating NSW’s ability to ramp up its intake of students next year using commercial flights.
Berejiklian had previously said there was a “huge question mark” over what impact the new measures — as well as Sydney’s highly infectious Delta strain of COVID-19 — would have on the state’s ability to return international students to NSW campuses as planned.
The international student education market is worth 14 billion Australian dollars a year to the NSW economy, with each student spending A$60,000 on average on top of their education expenses.
International Education Association Australia CEO Phil Honeywood told The Sydney Morning Herald that the delay meant universities were at risk of entering a third academic year in 2022 with international students unable to enter the country in significant numbers.
On June 10, NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet announced a pilot plan that would enable 250 international students to come to Sydney per fortnight from mid-year. The pilot plan would see 250 students brought into the state on charter flights every fortnight from as soon as this month, and was expected to be scaled up to 500 students a fortnight by the end of the year. The plan won’t come at the expense of returning Australians.