International Student Department Backs Travel Bubble Petition as Pilot Program Delayed
By Declan Milton
Amidst ongoing delays to ANU’s international pilot program, the ANUSA International Students’ Department (ISD) has endorsed a petition calling on the Federal Government to allow international students to enter Australia.
The petition attempts to revive the idea of a ‘travel bubble’, which was discussed by Government officials last year, and at the time of publication has received more than 15,700 signatures.
The petition argues that online classes are no longer available for some students and that they therefore “have to be exempted to enter Australia”. Further, the petition states attending school is a human right which stranded students are being deprived of. The petition also raises concerns surrounding student mental health and condemns the fact that students are paying fees “for video lessons” and unused residences.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison in December last year regarding a scheme to bring international students back to Canberra. However, this has yet to be implemented. Barr told Observer that the ACT Government will continue to work on plans to “bring our international students back as soon as we can” but noted that international students “come from many different countries” and a travel bubble would therefore require “significant coordination between airlines, governments and universities”.
At ANU, international students make up 50% of enrolments in Postgraduate programs and 22% of Undergraduate enrolments. It is estimated that approximately 140,000 international students are stranded overseas and cannot enter Australia.
On 22 January ANU Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt stated that the international student pilot program, which was being developed over the last five months, had been halted due to the Federal Government’s caps on returning travellers.
Schmidt confirmed that the University is “[continuing] to work with the ACT and Commonwealth governments”, but conceded that the launch of a travel bubble program is “unlikely to proceed as soon as we had hoped”.
ANUSA International Students’ Officer Benedict Chin has urged the University and the ACT Government to work on restarting the pilot programs. Despite a lack of response to similar petitions from the Commonwealth Government, Chin believes that lobbying “is still a cause that we want to continue to advocate for”. Citing examples of travel bubbles used in other countries, Chin questions why a “well planned travel bubble wouldn’t work in Australia’s case”.
As of 2020, 412,951 international students were enrolled in higher education programs in Australia with a further 293,576 studying VET programs. However, there are reports that many international students are considering abandoning Australia, opting instead for countries with more relaxed border control measures – like Canada and the UK.
A pilot program was trialled in late November last year in the Northern Territory, but has not been continued nor trialled in any other states across the country. The scheme involved the return of 70 students studying at Charles Darwin University, who were required to quarantine for a period of two weeks and present a negative COVID-19 test. Chin cites this as an example of how a travel program could work.
The closing date for signatures on the petition is 10 Feb.
Want to get involved? You can write articles, photograph, livestream or do web support. We’re also looking for someone to yell “extra!” outside Davey Lodge at 1AM. Apply today!