Western Australia reopens to international students

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Western Australia has thrown its borders open to international students, ending almost two years of lockdown and six weeks of policy backflips.

International and interstate travellers now enjoy largely unhindered access to the state for the first time since the premier, Mark McGowan, vowed to make his vast territory an “island within an island” in April 2020.

The government has also launched a travel portal to help international students obtain discounted airline tickets and increased luggage allowances, to apprise them of entry requirements and to link them to support services.

“We’re keen to get students the best deal possible on their flights and are working with airlines to offer exclusive prices,” the portal’s website says. “One of the safest places in the world to visit and study in, Western Australia offers quality institutions and programmes, a great lifestyle and a wealth of employment opportunities.”

It remains to be seen whether students are convinced, with the government reportedly approving just 28,000 “G2G” passes – mandatory for all travellers wishing to enter the state, along with rapid antigen tests and vaccination against Covid-19 – so far.

Western Australia was host to about 17,000 international students by the end of last year, with another 5,000 or so located overseas. Before the pandemic, it boasted 53,000 overseas enrolments.

The University of Western Australia said its international enrolments were down on previous years, but “we expect that to change and anticipate a particularly strong semester two”.

Curtin University said it had also experienced a decline resulting from Covid-19 border closures. “However, with Western Australia’s hard border finally lifting on 3 March, we are looking forward to welcoming our international cohort to our WA campuses.”

Interstate institutions reported similar trends, with the University of Queensland and RMIT University saying overseas enrolments were below pre-pandemic levels. A University of Melbourne spokeswoman said international commencements were about 10 per cent lower than at this time last year, but reported “increasing demand for our programmes” as borders opened.

The University of Sydney said it expected 2022 international enrolments to be “close to pre-pandemic levels”, while University of Canberra deputy vice-chancellor Geoff Crisp said commencing international enrolments were almost one-quarter higher than in early 2021.

“There is, however, no quick fix, and it will take time for enrolment levels to fully recover to pre-pandemic levels,” he said. “Outcomes vary on a market-by-market basis, with some markets – particularly those in south Asia – recovering quicker than others.”

Meanwhile, the federal government has unveiled more employment-focused measures to attract international students and graduates. Recently qualified engineers whose stay in Australia was interrupted by border closures will now be able to return for up to 24 months – up from the usual 18 – while unlimited work rights will be extended to the partners of people undergoing occupational training or professional development in Australia.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com



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