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Australian universities fear severe financial difficulties if borders remain closed to international students

Australia is struggling to ensure that one of its biggest exports education, can continue to find buyers in the international market, even as it starts to assess the economic impact of the pandemic on its universities.
BY Skendha Singh |   26-05-2020

Australian universities
Photo by Catarina Sousa from Pexels

Peter Varghese, Chancellor of the University of Queensland, told the media that if border closures continue until the next year, thereby impacting student inflow, Australian universities will be “in a world of pain financially.”

According to studies, 27% of university expenditure comes from international students. This means that, given the drop in their numbers and the current lack of corporate financing, Australia’s research workforce is going to be severely impacted. According to the country’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, universities might cut approximately 21000 jobs over the next six months, of which 7000 are likely to be research staff. In his response to how the pandemic will impact Australian researchers, he further notes “there are concerns that women, early-career researchers and recent graduates will experience disproportionately negative impacts.”

Therefore, according to news reports, Australian universities have proposed a Secure Corridor scheme to revive this critical stream of revenue. According to media reports, the elite Group of Eight have suggested that students from ‘safe’ countries be allowed to return, subject to pre-travel isolation and health checks. Countries will be deemed safe according to standard criteria such as the rate of infection, tests administered etc. Selected students will fly in on trusted Australian carriers and head to quarantine accommodations, which they will pay for themselves. The universities will take responsibility for airport pick-ups and drop offs. The universities are realistic about how they can continue to survive during the pandemic which is increasingly looking like a long-term challenge.

Group of Eight Chief Executive, Vicki Thomson told the media, “Whilst we are optimistic that this framework might assist governments to look at a possible small scale re-entry of our international students in some states in the next three to four months, realistically we would expect to see the bulk of our students back for semester 1, 2021.”

According to Chancellor Varghese, given the uncertainty of when the students might return, it is difficult to assess the full financial impact of this public health crisis. He told The Guardian that, “The University of Queensland can get through this year, but if the borders remain shut next year, we’ll be in a different world of pain financially. My view is that if we enter next year with our borders closed to international students, then a large number of universities will be in very severe financial difficulty.”


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