Australian university sector executives are worried the delayed vaccine rollout will hinder international students’ returning to the country.
“There’s no way the $40 billion-a-year (US$30.5 billion) industry could withstand the loss of a third academic year next year,” Phil Honeywood, CEO of International Education Association of Australia, told The Age.
The recent change in medical advice surrounding the dangers of AstraZeneca has hampered the government’s original plan to get every Australian vaccinated by October this year.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also refrained from setting a new target but said he hopes the public will be vaccinated by the end of the year.
Western Sydney University Vice-Chancellor Barney Glover told The Age he was concerned around rollout delays and hoped it would not impact a program that would enable the return of international students in small numbers.
“I am hoping that the challenges around the vaccine program in Australia are not going to adversely affect the very modest trial of students coming inbound,” Glover said.
The proposed program refers to the New South Wales (NSW) government plan for alternative quarantine, which will allow small numbers of students into the country without taking up quarantine places of returning Australians.
Education is Australia’s fourth-largest export and generated $37.5 billion to the Australian economy during the last financial year.
For NSW, it generated $14.6 billion in exports prior to the lockdowns.
The NSW Treasury estimated that the state has already lost one-third of its international student base.
“The return of international students as soon as possible is vital for retaining jobs in our education sector, and for the economy more broadly,” the NSW Treasury said.
Universities have long been anxious around the delayed re-opening of international borders causing students to look elsewhere to study.
In November last year, IDP Connect found that over half of the students applying for Australian universities were considering switching elsewhere if they could begin studies on campus sooner.
RMIT University spokesman told The Epoch Times that it had seen a decrease in new international students’ applications compared to the same time last year.
“While border controls will see a decrease in international students studying in Australia, RMIT students studying offshore (campuses in Vietnam and partnership Universities) have remained strong throughout the COVID-19 period,” the spokesman said.