Uni lobby calls on government: time for a sign on border opening

The Group of Eight has backed the government’s handling of COVID-19 but CEO Vicki Thomson signals it has had it with criticism from Canberra and no planning for borders to open

In a new Go8 podcast Ms Thomson warns that Australia is now losing international students to the UK. “It’s not just that our borders are still closed it’s the messaging we are sending to potential new students.”

“We’ve always been very competitive but the messaging that is going out is that we are not open for business and we are perhaps not as welcoming as we should be” she says in a Go8 podcast,”

And she calls on the Commonwealth Government to establish a transition plan for the return of international students.

“We are not saying just open the borders and let everyone, in we have to have strategies in place and we have to ensure that the health of our people in Australia is not compromised, but we are looking to the federal government to give us some sign when the borders will open.”

This appears part of a careful shift in messaging by the Group of Eight, which has consistently backed the government on health-policy based border closures. In March Ms Thomson called on the Commonwealth to take charge of the planning process for international students to return. “The problem is we have so many layers we have to work through, health departments, education departments, state government quarantining and Home Affairs,” she said (CMM March 23).

Ms Thomson also signals the Go8 would respond to criticism of universities as being too dependent on overseas students, saying that governments “of both persuasions” had encouraged “international engagement” which was also in the national interest.

“That is the nature of the island country that we are, we have to look outward. Name me a sector that has not relied on strong trading partnerships, with countries in our region and one in particular, China.”

“So, it is quite an interesting conundrum – suddenly we should be diversifying. We are getting a lot rhetoric from the federal government about focusing on the education of domestic students. We never did, we never would  -that is our priority. We are public universities here to educate Australian students.” Educating tens of thousands of international students is a “fantastic by-product,” she says.