Survey of 6,000 prospective foreign candidates finds those set on studying in Australia becoming impatient for border restrictions to lift
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Errol Phuah, the national president of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, said Australia’s vaccine rollout was far behind Canada, the UK or the US.
“These are our competing countries, and they are smashing us,” he told Guardian Australia.
At the start of 2020, a pilot program brought 63 students back to Charles Darwin University, and universities said they hoped international students could return in time for semester two in 2020.
Phuah said this was looking almost impossible.
He said students were not necessarily frustrated at the slow pace of Australia’s vaccinations, but frustrated that there was no plan or a clear date to aim for.
“What has been greatly frustrating is there has been no leadership for the most part … Everyone is blaming each other, no one is taking actual responsibility,” he told Guardian Australia.
Phuah said the government should “set a clear goal” for 2022 and “stick to it” to give international students certainty, and keep them enrolled at Australian universities.
“If you look at those data on the vaccine rollout, it is very clear. Especially the US, the UK and Canada … These are our competing countries, and they are smashing us.
“Those countries are way ahead … so what is the plan there? We were talking about bringing people back in October this year. Right now, at the rate we are going, a lot of students have very little faith that we will be back in January 2022.
“The most we have for bringing international students back is a consultation paper. A lot of ideas have come up and been dropped.”
He added that Australia could look into quarantine centres outside of major cities, to lessen the risk of spread, or use another country like Singapore, or work with other countries to ensure international students were vaccinated before they come to Australia.
“I think the state and federal governments need to work together and not blame each other to find solutions to increase the quarantine volume,” he said.
“As the students currently in Australia finish up and leave Australia, and they are not replaced, we will have a lot more courses that are empty. We are on borrowed time, because the next three years, some students, 2nd or 3rd year students, they will be done. That is money that won’t be replaced.”