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NSW pauses plan to fly in international students until lockdown ends

“As the Premier has made clear, NSW is focused on getting out of the current lockdown and reducing case numbers. That is the right approach,” he said. “We’ll continue to work with states and territories on proposals to return international students when conditions allow. As always, we’ll be guided by the health advice and keep the safety of Australians as our number one priority.”

The federal government’s four-stage plan for reopening the country, announced earlier this month, also poses challenges for the return of students. While phase one permits pilot programs for “limited entry of student and economic visa holders”, caps on the number of students entering the country will be imposed in later phases, complicating NSW’s ability to ramp up its intake of students next year using commercial flights.

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NSW Vice-Chancellors’ Committee convenor Professor Barney Glover said the pause was a “sensible response in the current circumstances” but the committee was continuing to work on logistics with the state government to ensure the pilot was ready to go once the lockdown ended.

“Allowing international students to continue their studies in Australia is vital to the state and our universities,” said Professor Glover, who is vice-chancellor of Western Sydney University.

Phil Honeywood, chief executive of International Education Association Australia, said the delay meant universities were at risk of entering a third academic year in 2022 with international students unable to enter the country in significant numbers.

“Many months and effort have gone into NSW being the second state to bring students back. We know it can be done safely, separate from the other international arrivals, but time is running out because the UK, Canada and USA now have their borders fully open for international students,” Mr Honeywood said. “This will put at risk a whole three-year pipeline of students and do our nation long-standing social and economic damage.”

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