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Australia approves student return pilot for New South Wales

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Australia has announced a second pilot programme to allow a limited number of international students to return to continue their studies
  • The New South Wales pilot will initially allow entry for up to 500 fully vaccinated students per month

The governments of Australia and New South Wales have approved a second major student return pilot that will see up to 250 foreign students per fortnight returning to New South Wales to continue their studies. The pilot is expected to welcome its first students in December 2021, and will operate within these important parameters:

  • It applies only to returning students;
  • Students will be invited by their participating higher education institutions;
  • Only students who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be eligible, with the further requirement that they must have received a vaccine approved by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

The TGA has so far approved the Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Janssen vaccines. This is a significant factor in that it will mean that students from some key Asian markets – notably Nepal and especially China where the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines are more commonly used – will be less likely to be included in the early stages of the pilot.

Returning students will also be required to undertake a quarantine in purpose-built student housing in Sydney.

The pilot is confined to a defined list of 11 participating public universities – including the University of Sydney, UNSW Sydney, Macquarie University, and the University of Technology Sydney – along with several private providers, including Redhill Education, Kaplan, and Navitas.

Students participating in the pilot will travel to Sydney on chartered flights, with the cost of travel and quarantine borne by the participating institutions and the students themselves. The significance of the new pilot rests in part with the fact that the state is home to a considerable share of Australia’s overall foreign enrolment. Before COVID, roughly four in ten international students in Australia could be found in New South Wales. Study NSW estimates that there are nearly 60,000 foreign students enrolled with NWS institutions but who are currently outside of Australia and unable to enter the country to continue their studies.

“We are delighted to welcome this carefully developed pilot plan aimed at gradually returning international students to our university campuses,” said Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson. “[New South Wales] university leaders have been working hard with the NSW State Government and the Commonwealth on plans to safely return students for 18 months now. [This] announcement will bring hope and certainty for many students who have been patiently waiting to return to New South Wales campuses and realise their dream of a world class Australian education.”

She added that, “Nearly half of all international students in higher education remain outside of Australia. Around one third of our international PhD students are also offshore, anxious to return to complete their research here. All of them will be looking to the success of the New South Wales initiative.”

The NSW pilot is the second such programme approved by the Australian government and follows the June 2021 approval of a similar pilot effort in South Australia.

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