Aussie opens borders for foreign students group only

SYDNEY • While Australia’s borders remain firmly closed to overseas visitors, the government plans to make a notable exception as it races to save its fourth-biggest export: Education.

In time for the new semester, authorities are working on a plan to allow 350 international students to be flown into Canberra, the nation’s capital, later this month to resume classes. Under a trial programme that could be rolled out nationally, the universities and territory government will foot the bill for their two-week mandatory quarantine in hotels.

It’s a sign of just how reliant Australia’s higher education sector has become on overseas students, who make up roughly a quarter of all enrolments — the second-highest ratio in the world after Luxembourg — and 40% of student revenues due to the higher fees they are charged.

But the extraordinary steps to help the A$38 billion (RM112.86 billion) export industry recover from the coronavirus lockdown may not be enough to guarantee its long- term future.

Australia has fallen behind the US, UK and France in the highly competitive market by opening fewer offshore campuses. And with 37% of its international students at universities coming from China in 2019, it serves as a warning to other nations of the perils of growing too dependent on a single market.

Relations with Beijing are in the deep freeze after Prime Minister Scott Morrison led calls for an inquiry into the source of the Covid-19 outbreak. China has since warned its citizens they face the risk of racist attacks in Australia if they study or holiday there.

“It’s a really risky situation for Australia’s universities because we’re dealing with two very major events” with the virus and increasing diplomatic tensions, said Angela Lehmann, education analyst at the Lygon Group, a Melbourne-based consultancy. “We are on a precipice at the moment.”

The education sector’s most pressing concern is to get as many overseas students as possible into Australia in time for the July semester. — Bloomberg