International students will return to NSW by the end of the year under a pilot announced by the NSW government.
The contract to provide quarantine facilities has been awarded to purpose-built student accommodation provider Scape, which will accommodate up to 650 students in a building in inner Sydney Redfern.
“Our Scape team are proud to partner with the NSW government and our world class education sector, here in NSW, to welcome our returning international students into our … student accommodation facility at Scape Redfern,” Scape CEO Anouk Darling said on Friday.
The students will have to be fully vaccinated with TGA-recognised vaccinations to return, which may rule out Chinese students.
The TGA has approved the Pfizer, Moderna and Astra-Zenica vaccines, while the Sinovac and Sinopharma vaccines are used in China.
It’s expected that the first phase of the plan will bring back 500 international students on chartered flights paid for by the students.
The government says the pilot will “expand and evolve” as vaccine rates continue to evolve.
More than 57,000 international students are currently overseas.
Rebuilding the sector
Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said the program was vital to help rebuild the state’s education sector and stimulate the economy.
“International education plays an important role in connecting NSW to the world,” Mr Perrottet said in a statement.
“As we implement a range of efforts to reboot our economy, rebuilding the sector – which was worth $14.6 billion to NSW in 2019 – is a key part of our efforts.”
Universities and independent education providers have signed up to the industry-funded plan and will contact students for expressions of interest in participating.
The plan has the support of the NSW Vice-Chancellors’ Committee, Council of International Students Australia and Independent Higher Education Australia.
‘Students before Aboriginal residents’
However Yvonne Weldon, Chair of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council and a candidate for Sydney Lord Mayor, says the deal means international students are being put before Aboriginal residents.
The land where the building is situated, known as The Block, belongs to the Aboriginal Housing Committee (AHC) but Scape has a 99-year lease on it.
“In the 1970s then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam granted the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) funds to purchase houses and land for the Aboriginal community,” Ms Weldon told Government News.
“For us, this piece of land is iconic.
“Using it to quarantine international students and jeopardise the health of the few members of our community who were lucky enough to secure affordable housing options for Aboriginal people is just another way the Aboriginal Housing Company continues to put lucrative student accommodation before Aboriginal residents.”
Metro LALC CEO Nathan Moran said the LALC wasn’t consulted on the decision.
Mr Moran also said he had concerns for the safety of the community at the time when the area was experiencing an oubreak of COVID-19.
“I couldn’t think of worse time to potentially consider bringing other people into an area where we’re experiencing an outbreak,” he said.
“I understand that there’s a great reliance on students from an economic perspective but I’m not quite sure that economics should override health.”
Comment has been sought from the AHC.
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