As the world reels from the COVID 19 situation, all our ideas of what was once normal like dining out, flying abroad, shopping in the malls, celebrating birthdays, watching movies in the cinema hall, have become a far-fetched fantasy. Baffled and lost, we look for some piece of good news or solace, that would lift our staggering spirits and it appears that international students looking to study in Australia, may have a fresh lease of hope.

Speaking at the recent ATN International Education Summit, Stuart Ayres, the minister for jobs, investment, tourism, and western Sydney, remarked that NSW was planning to welcome international students by early 2020. He further shared that this seemed feasible owing to the confidence gained from NSW’s record of successfully quarantining 60,000 returning travelers through Sydney and utilization of hotel quarantine. He further asserted that talks were on with the Vice Chancellors of various universities to gear up for international students’ arrival. It is believed that there are fair chances that borders will be opened for international students through a quarantine regime.

Most of the universities have been constantly proposing and requesting the government to establish a ‘Safe Corridor’ scheme for the return of overseas students. According to this scheme, the students would be allowed to enter Australia, on the provision that they would follow the protocol of prior health screening in their home country before traveling on specifically arranged flights and would follow the requirement of being transferred to the quarantine accommodation by the universities for 14 days and would self-isolate themselves.  As international students contribute about AUD 39 billion a year and all states are gradually looking at revamping their economies along with holding the promise of qualitative higher education and ease of its access, the ‘Safe Corridor’ scheme seems to be a great idea at the moment.

The trial program of ‘Safe Corridor’ was put on hold in July, owing to the outbreak of Coronavirus in Victoria. However, as things are gradually easing, the universities are ready to roll out a plan to welcome international students, keeping all safety measures and health screenings in place. While it may be a mammoth task, the university officials are confident that they would be able to handle it well in collaboration with NSW police, central and state authorities, proper hotel quarantine system, and a deep desire to continue providing quality education, amidst the pandemic situation. 

The same views were corroborated by the University of Sydney’s spokesperson when he said they looked forward to working with the NSW government to ensure the safe return of international students by the start of the first semester next year. The deputy vice-chancellor of UTS, Iain Watt expressed a similar sentiment when he pointed out that universities would be happy to welcome students as soon as possible and that it would be a win-win situation for everyone. Phil Honeywood, chief executive officer of the International Education Association, also responded positively to Mr. Ayres’ willingness and expression of interest on the safe and early return of international students. Even though the NSW government has not yet officially sought the federal government’s approval, it appears well in the pipeline. As Mr. Ayres’ pointed that Australia still had a rather good reputation of being a COVID-safe study location, so it was obvious that the universities would be happy to have their international students back at the earliest.

All these developments sound heartening indeed, and we believe that while we are perhaps going to keep the company with words like sanitize, masks, and quarantine, for the time being, our hopes for a better and bright future need not be quarantined.

Hope quarantined, not!

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