A new plan to allow international students to return to South Australia has been approved by SA Health and is now being considered by the federal government, according to local media reports.
Under the plan, 160 students will be brought in at a time and spend two weeks quarantining at Parafield Airport, in the north of the city of Salisbury.
According to a report by ABC News, a state government spokesperson said chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier had approved the international student arrival plan because it met all the protocols and requirements of the federal government.
International students have been unable to travel to Australia since borders were shut last year and the disruption has resulted in significant overall declines in enrolments in the country.
“International students add so much to South Australia’s multicultural fabric, along with the clear economic benefits for our CBD and our state overall, with every three students leading to the creation of one job,” the state government spokesperson said.
“In 2019, almost 20,000 jobs were underpinned by international education, which is massive for our state.
“International education is a significant part of South Australia’s economy, contributing over $2 billion in 2019, partly spent with our education providers such as schools and universities, and also providing a boost to our retail, hospitality and tourism sectors.”
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics has confirmed that South Australia’s international education sector was valued at AUS$2.2bn in 2019.
StudyAdelaide welcomed the announcement as “promising news”.
“The plan has the full support of our Chief Health Officer and SA Police and we think it will be positively received by the Federal Government as all advice and protocols have been considered,” said Karyn Kent, chief executive of StudyAdelaide.
The nominated quarantine facility is student accommodation for a local flight school, and is currently the “preferred space” to meet the quarantine and health standards required, she continued.
StudyAdelaide previously said student accommodation facilities were being assessed for their suitability to quarantine returning students.
“The submission of our state’s plan is the first of several milestones we have to achieve before we will see the first students return. Subject to the federal government’s response to the plan, and implementation of the next steps, we are hopeful that students will return in the second half of 2021,” Kent added.
“The plan is only for international students studying in SA, each state/territory is considering their own options.”
The plan to bring international students back into South Australia has been met with some concern from local people, however.
Salisbury’s mayor Gillian Aldridge told ABC News that she did not want to see Covid–19 spreading from the facility.
“It is really important that my community recognises that we as a council will do [our] best — working with the government — to make sure they are safe, the community is safe,” Aldridge said.
“That is our number one priority. The main issue is: Is it safe? We don’t want it to get out into our community, and I am being told that will not happen.”
Last year, minister for trade and investment Stephen Patterson said that while the industry had been inevitably hit by the impact of Covid-19, South Australia’s worldwide standing as a leader in international education remains intact.
“Once international borders open up, our state’s incredible health response and nation-leading support for international students will act as a guiding light for new students looking for a study destination,” Patterson said.
However, there is uncertainty around how long students are likely to put up with waiting for borders to re-open.
Recent cumulative government figures in the year to March 2021 have shown that international student commencements fell by 31%, while the number of enrolments have fallen by 17%. Overall Australia saw 207,773 fewer international enrolments this year across all sectors.
The delays around students not being able to return to Australia have also had a significant impact on their mental health.
Some 93% of international students stranded overseas have experienced significant mental health issues, according to a recent report by the Council of International Students Australia.
“The picture painted on mental health impact was shockingly distressing. A whopping nine out of 10 students reported to [have] experienced stress regarding their situation, with over two-thirds reported self- diagnosed anxiety and/or self-diagnosed depression,” the report said.
Some 91% of respondents said that they wanted additional mental health support and resources for stranded students. Other findings of the report were that 64% of respondents stated they are unsatisfied with online learning quality and experience.
Update: June 2, 09:30 GMT article updated to include comment from StudyAdelaide.
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