It is hoped that the trial will pave the way for South Australia to bring back international students and so help revive the region’s economy.
“This is a very important next step in terms of the recovery from the economic disaster of Covid-19”
Students will go into mandatory hotel quarantine for two weeks before they start their studies and have been deemed to pose little risk of coronavirus transmission by SA Health.
“This is a very important next step in terms of the recovery from the economic disaster of Covid-19,” said Birmingham.
“International education is a huge services export industry for Australia and South Australia.
“It underpins many thousands of jobs and it is important that we figure out how we can get international students back to Australia safely and appropriately,” he added.
Birmingham explained that anything that happens in relation to international arrivals coming into Australia will be done with the strictest of safety standards in place.
“I also want to stress as well that no taxpayer dollars will be used in terms of supporting students flying into Australia or quarantining as is required,” he added.
Despite government assurances of safety, the pilot has come under scrutiny from opposition health spokesperson, Chris Picton.
“Many South Australians are now looking at this decision on international students and wondering whether this does question the hard border stance we have had in place,” he said.
Picton said that there are many families in South Australia who haven’t seen loved ones, haven’t seen family members with illnesses or who have had babies interstate.
“They’re taking that on the chin and making those tough sacrifices to keep our state in the good situation we are in now,” he added.
However, the news was welcomed by stakeholders in Australia’s international education sector.
“Congrats to SA for being [the] first to announce overseas students to return,” said IEAA CEO, Phil Honeywood on Twitter.
The situation for those international students who remained in Australia during the pandemic has not always been easy.
A survey led by the University of Technology Sydney found that 21% of respondents said they feared they could become homeless and 32% reported that they were ‘finding it difficult to eat properly’.
Numerous industry stakeholders, including the Council of International Students Australia, Universities Australia, and IEAA called on the federal government to do more to tackle the issue of student hardship.
“We call on the federal government to join the state and territory governments and the university sector in offering ongoing support to temporary visa holders in Australia,” Universities Australia chief executive, Catriona Jackson told The PIE in relation to the survey.
IEAA’s Honeywood previously told The PIE News that under Australia’s federal system of government, housing is entirely a state and territory government responsibility.
“It is important that we figure out how we can get international students back to Australia safely and appropriately”
“Throughout the pandemic to date, we have seen varying degrees of support for international students facing accommodation challenges,” he said.
Honeywood explained, however, that the problem in Australia is that there is no uniform national policy that is easily navigated by distressed students.
The lack of a joined-up response from the federal government may have had a negative impact on Australia’s reputation as a study destination.
A report by ABC News stated that a separate survey by UTS which is yet to be published has found that 59% of temporary visa holders are less likely to recommend Australia as a destination after their experience during Covid-19.