Subjects: International Students; Impact of COVID-19 on Universities; Flight caps
LAURA JAYES: As the Government pledges support for tourism and aviation, another sector is battling for survival. Universities are losing money and jobs, as the number of international students plunged by more than 60 per cent during the pandemic. It’s a huge problem, because universities used to cash in around $10 billion or 27 per cent of their revenue from international students. As a result, an estimated 17,000 jobs were lost last year alone, due to the revenue shortfall and the damage isn’t limited to universities. The cost to the wider economy is staggering. In New South Wales, the losses of these students and their spending slashed $11 billion from the bottom-line. So, what’s stopping the return of international students? Well, it’s a familiar one, it’s quarantine, hotel quarantine. Much like the close to 40,000 Australians stranded abroad, international students are locked out by tight caps on quarantine. That’s what the New South Wales Treasurer is trying to change. Dominic Perrottet wants some students to jump ahead, perhaps of returning Australian travellers, to keep the economy ticking along. Let’s go to, Alan Tudge, now, he is the Education Minister. We’ll get to that in the main, in just a moment, Alan Tudge. First of all, this new announcement to replace JobKeeper at the end of this month, but nothing still for universities. Why?
ALAN TUDGE: Well, that’s not quite correct, Laura. In fact, last year, we announced an extra billion dollars for our universities and that’s being rolled out this year, in terms of research funding. Plus, an extra 30,000 university domestic places. So, that’s also flowing through this year. Now, I actually disagree with how you phrased things at the start, because many of our universities are still in pretty good shape. Our biggest universities that have already announced their results from last calendar year are showing surpluses; for example, Monash University, Melbourne University, University of Western Sydney. And from an international student’s perspective, yes, they are down but the best available data we have, as of the end of last year, is they’re only down five per cent. So, it’s tough, but it’s not a catastrophe at this stage.
LAURA JAYES: Well, that’s not true of some. Particularly in 2019, Wollongong University had 185,000 students. That went down to about 130,000 last year and this year, it’s 85,000.
ALAN TUDGE: Well, I don’t have the Wollongong figures in front of me. I know, certainly, in aggregate, as at the end of last year, which is the last data that we have collectively available, international students were only down 5 per cent. Now, at the same time, domestic students were up 7 per cent and that means that overall, the financial situation of the universities is actually still holding up at the moment. Aided, of course, by that additional billion dollars which we’re providing to the universities this year.
LAURA JAYES: Well, what do you make of the data from, Dominic Perrottet, the New South Wales Treasurer, that says the loss of international students in the last year has cost the economy about $11 billion. Is that, not right?
ALAN TUDGE: Certainly, international students have an effect on the economy in two ways. One, being in terms of the fees that they pay, but two, being in terms of the accommodation, the meals, their families tend to come and visit and that often is about the same amount as the fees that they pay. So, you do get hit twice there. Now, from the fee revenue perspective, that’s holding up and partly, that’s holding up because people are doing online courses from abroad. But that means they’re not spending as much money here in Australia, so that does have an impact and Dominic Perrottet, is right on that front. I should say, of course we want to get international students back, we do absolutely. But our priority has to be, Laura, and remains, to get the Australians back and when it’s safe to do so, of course, we will have international students come back.
LAURA JAYES: Well this is what Dominic Perrottet had to say about that earlier this week on this program.
DOMINIC PERROTTET: We need to put these ideas on the table so we can reach a resolution. At the moment, just turning a blind eye to it and saying: well, we’re just going to simply focus on returning Australians, I think, is a limited approach.
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LAURA JAYES: A limited approach from you and turning a blind eye.
ALAN TUDGE: Well, I disagree respectfully with Dominic there. We've said very clearly that if the universities themselves work with the state governments and put a proposal to us, which is quarantine beds above and beyond those already in place, then we would look at that and to date, I have not received any such proposal from Dominic Perrottet or any other state governments, to be honest, which has those preconditions. That it is a joint submission, it's signed off by the Chief Medical Officer, and the quarantine beds are above and beyond what already exists for Australians.
LAURA JAYES: What about flight caps?
ALAN TUDGE: Well, I mean, typically the flight caps relate to the quarantine beds, so inevitably, there'll be more flights put on if there's more quarantine beds. So, that's the nub of the issue, is the quarantine bed arrangements, which are managed by the state governments. Now, I know that for a fact that some universities are working with their state governments and looking at innovative options. But to date, they haven't come to me with clear proposals as to how it would be done, showing that it's above and beyond those quarantine beds for Australians, and having the tick of approval from their Chief Medical Officer. They are the preconditions. If they do that, we're willing to entertain this. But until that time, our priority remains that it will be those quarantine beds for Australians returning.
LAURA JAYES: Well, if you rolled out the vaccine a little earlier it may have helped, but look, that's perhaps a red herring at this point. But Alan Tudge, when you look at the New South Wales experience, don't you have some sympathy? New South Wales is doing the bulk of the work when it comes to returning overseas travellers, Victoria is not taking any at the moment. So, you know, they're also a bit hamstrung here. Can you help them out?
ALAN TUDGE: I certainly admire Gladys Berejiklian and the leadership which she has shown. And you are absolutely right, they have done the bulk of the work in relation to the quarantine arrangements, and I think she's been the most outstanding state and territory leader in terms of managing the pandemic as well, just in terms of a moderated approach. I've seen the other side. I'm from Victoria and seen at close hand what we've gone through. So, yes, we will work very closely with them, but our preconditions are there, and if they live up to those preconditions, we would certainly entertain supporting those and getting international students in.
LAURA JAYES: Do you think universities themselves can quarantine international students in their own student accommodation? Would that be acceptable to you?
ALAN TUDGE: Well, some of them are looking at those proposals and they're working through those with the state health departments. There are some complexities associated with that because, of course, you've got to make sure that people are quarantined in their own rooms. Sometimes those student accommodation facilities have joint bathrooms, for example, which then doesn't work. Sometimes they don't. So, it's not a straightforward exercise, but I know that some universities are working through that.
LAURA JAYES: Okay. You gave a speech in Sydney this morning and you were talking about the standard of schools, but also this issue of consent that has come up, thanks to Chanel Contos, who was a former student at Kambala in Sydney. Now, you started your speech by talking about that. What is the Federal Government going to do here?
ALAN TUDGE: Well, first up, can I say to Chanel and the others who have spoken about this issue, I admire your courage for speaking about it. And I've got to say, I've been quite shocked at the extent of the number of people who have been coming forward. It appears to be quite a widespread issue. Now, this is an issue for the entire community, I think, to do better at. From a schooling perspective, some programs are already in place. There's a respectful relationship programs already part of the national curriculum. Different state and territory jurisdictions have their own programs. But we're also going to be rolling out some new materials at the federal level in the weeks ahead called Respect Matters. It covers from Prep all the way through to Year 12 and covers things like respectful relationships, issues around consent, issues around abuse and how to deal with it. So, a really good suite of materials which schools will be able to use to roll out as well.
LAURA JAYES: Okay. Alan Tudge, that sounds very interesting. There's never enough time. We'll get you back on in the next couple of weeks and really delve into that. As always, appreciate it.
ALAN TUDGE: Thanks very much, Laura.