Thousands of international students could bypass hotel quarantine and isolate in their own student accommodation early next year under a plan being considered by the Victorian government.
The proposal – put forward by high schools, international education advocates and accommodation providers – aims to bring back 23,000 students as early as January in a bid to revitalise Victoria’s education sector.
International Education Association of Australia chief executive Phil Honeywood said quarantining international students in hotels would not be an appropriate option.
“These facilities are 20-storeys high, they’re custom built to accommodate domestic and international students – there are mental health and pastoral care programs 24/7,” he said.
“Hotels don’t have any 24/7 mental health or pastoral care programs.”
Mr Honeywood said how the quarantine would be policed was a matter for state authorities to negotiate.
He also said Victoria was “lagging behind” other states in its plans to attract international students next year, slamming the state’s approach as “unprofessional and ill-co-ordinated” after an eight-person international education advisory panel on which he sat was canned in August by Trade Minister Martin Pakula.
The group was forced to disband four months earlier than planned.
“The government needs to fast-track a comprehensive plan because ironically international education is the number one industry for Victoria, yet ironically we’re the only state that doesn’t have a plan to get international students back,” he said.
“It’s not just universities, there are 30 or more government high schools and about 40 private high schools that heavily rely on international students.”
But Mr Pakula, who oversees international students in the state, disagreed Victoria was lagging behind other Australian jurisdictions.
“Victoria has been an incredibly welcoming destination for international students … this won’t be necessarily just an issue of Victoria against other states,” he said.
“The Australian international education market will be significantly challenged by other jurisdictions, like Canada is just one example.”
Federal, state and territory leaders are expected to discuss plans for the return of international students, worth $40 billion to the economy nationwide, during national cabinet discussions on Friday.
Victoria only just started accepting international flights again this week, with 253 passengers touching down on Monday and an average of 160 per day throughout the rest of the week.