Australia’s Northern Territory Government confirmed on Monday (Sept. 28, 2020) it was working with Charles Darwin University to fly 70 international students to Darwin, Australia from Singapore next month, reported ABC News. While this is welcome news after months of reported pilot programmes to bring international students to various states that did not take off, a pressing issue remains — who will foot the bill for this?
According to the report, a spokesman from Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s office said an agreement for a pilot programme in late October was now in place with the Federal Government. Previously, Phil Honeywood, CEO of the International Education Association of Australia, said South Australia and the Northern Territory are likely to be first to open their borders to international students.
It is still unclear who will bear the cost for the international students’ arrival in Australia — will students have to pay for their flights? Or will CDU cover the 2,500 Australian dollars cost for students to quarantine at Howard Springs, where the government wanted to trial quarantining international students?
The country is already seeing a dip in the number of foreign students to its shores, no thanks to the current travel restrictions and COVID-19 disrupting their movements. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), in July 2020 there were nearly 40 arrivals to Australia travelling on an international student visa. This was a decrease of 100% or 143,810 students compared to the corresponding month of the previous year.
Date from ABS show 410 international students arrived in the NT last July in time for the second semester of study; this July, there were none. Before the pandemic, the NT Government said in an international education strategy it hoped would lift international student numbers from 2,600 to 10,000 by 2025.
Previously, ABC News reported that Gunner said he is in discussions about expanding the Northern Territory’s current hotspot policy to include international destinations. All international arrivals, regardless of where they are from, must quarantine upon their arrival.
“We have a lot of international students here. Over the last four years we grew international student numbers from just over 1,000 to 2,500 … I don’t think we could get 2,500 in,” Gunner was quoted saying. “We are working with the Australian government around getting back into the next lot of term — how do we do that safely and make sure the economy keeps ticking, basically, but do it in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone?”
The Howard Springs facility is a former Inpex workers’ village and previously housed COVID-19 evacuees from Wuhan and the Diamond Princess, according to ABC News. “To me, the priority has to be how do we safely look after the people in quarantine at Howard Springs so that we don’t put anyone at risk,” said Gunner, adding that the number of people quarantining at Howard Springs had grown from about 600 to 1,100 as more people chose to travel to the NT.
The facility would continue to house people evacuated through emergency charter flights organised through the Australian government. “Anyone coming in from overseas and into Darwin and into that quarantine facility will do so in a scheduled way between the Australian government and the Territory government, bringing them in and making sure we keep Territorians safe,” said Gunner.