Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg tabled the “generous budget” yesterday. I noticed that the underlying coronavirus assumption of the 2020-21 budget is that there would be “population-wide Australian COVID-19 vaccination by late 2021” and that border restrictions and movement bans would be “progressively lifted”.
Australia has contained the virus and a roadmap for a scenario that was not so dependent on the vaccine would have given me a bit more “josh” (“Josh” in hindi means “enthusiasm”).
Twitter handles of the The Group of Eight and Universities Australia have the celebratory tone as they have been handed a 1Bn “cash splash” to cover for the lost revenue from reduced International student flow. None of the commentators even mentioned that once the stranded Australians are brought back before Christmas, focus can return on increased pace of return for the stranded continuing International students as early as end of this year and possible subsidising of the quarantine costs.
International students who are in Australia were largely deserted “by the Government” and now too there continues to be a lack of responsibility for bringing them back. We should not have expected much after noticing how thousands of stranded Australians are stuck around the world with very limited efforts towards bringing them back. Just see the plight of the stranded on groups such as “Australians stuck in India” and notice how they are simply trying to reach Australia even willing to travel without luggage using circuitous routes.
I know that some dissenters will point out that there are pilots planned and if we consider that the total number of student visa holders currently offshore will be in excess of 100,000 and the pilots have been announced and postponed and announced again is only talking of hundreds and that too mostly from China, we will realise the seriousness. I may be sounding a bit pessimistic here but then I am not able to spin a dismal strategy to sound great.
The strategies that assume a vaccine will delay the return of “new students” till end of 2021 and this will certainly derail the momentum. Australia’s competitors will gain. However the social media handles of the University lobbyists are busy celebrating a so called victory at this time.
How myopic they are and how shortsighted it is to assume that the only gain from International students is the fees that the students pay. Even if we leave out the long term benefits (Soft power ambassadors and return visitors), in the very short term too hospitality, transport, retain and even local realestate benefit greatly from the International students. Just watch how the economies of the big cities such as Melbourne and Sydney will be with less of the international students in 2021.
I do believe there can be a strategy to bring back the International Students even “without a vaccine” and whilst keeping Australia safe. The strategy is on my earlier blog.