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Clock ticking on plan for overseas students’ return, Deakin boss warns

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But he said time is running out for the state to settle on a plan and tell the world about it, so that overseas students know there is a pathway for their staged return.

“I don’t want to leave this sitting for another six months without an articulated pathway because I think that will push the recovery back probably another full 12 months,” he said.

“It won’t be a sudden return to large volumes arriving, it will have to be staged [and] it will have to be done in a way that brings the community with us.”

The disruption to the flow of students caused by Australia’s border closure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has cost the state $5.95 billion, analysis by Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute shows.

The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the state was at risk of losing market share to international rivals.

In a pre-budget submission, VECCI urged the government to commit to a return strategy by mid-year, at a cost of $100 million.

“We need to see a plan, and that plan needs to be signalled, flagged and marketed to international students before the end of June,” chief executive Paul Guerra said.

“Both Canada and the UK start to come online then, and if students choose to go to Canada or the UK, we’ll lose them for another 12 months.”

Acting Premier James Merlino again insisted the key roadblock was the federal government’s rejection of Victoria’s proposal to bring in groups of people who provide economic benefit to the state.

“The first hurdle is getting agreement from the Commonwealth to have a proportion of travellers be economic cohorts,” he said on Thursday.

“We want to see international education return. We’re not closing the door on this issue.”

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