International student applications at Canberra universities are at a similar level to last year despite uncertainty about whether students will be able to get to Australia for the start of semester next year.

Figures provided by the Australian National University show 4423 applications have been received to commence study in the first half of 2021 and 499 international students have accepted a place.

This is a slight increase compared with this time last year when 4355 applications had been received and 486 acceptances made for international students starting in the first half of 2020.

An ANU spokesman said it was encouraging that students were still keen to come to the university.

“Applications and acceptances for our programs are about the same level as this time last year – with 2020 representing a decline in applications from 2019,” the spokesman said.

“However we are in uncharted territory and it is unclear how many of these applicants will eventually study with us when they can’t travel to Canberra.”

University of Canberra pro vice-chancellor Professor Lawrence Pratchett said his university was also seeing the same level of overseas applications and acceptances compared with this time last year.

“It is important to note that the current data could be considered somewhat inflated due to the impact of students who had originally planned to study at the University of Canberra in 2020 and then deferring their offers to 2021 due to international border closures,” he said.

However, Professor Pratchett said application rates had shown a decline of approximately 40 per cent in recent months as it became clearer that commencing international students would not be able to arrive in time for semester one 2021.

“We are still noticing a strong interest in studying in Canberra, but the university is conscious that there are limitations on how long students will wait to travel to Australia when other international study destinations are currently available to international students.”

International students represent a significant income stream for the university sector and the wider ACT economy.

Last week, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison to seek approval of a plan to alternate flights of returning Australians and international students in the first three months of next year.

In the letter, Mr Barr said international education was the ACT’s first billion-dollar export industry before the pandemic, and that education visitors accounted for 60 per cent of overseas visitor expenditure in the territory.

The ANU 2019 annual report showed income from onshore and offshore overseas student fees amounted to almost $329 million, up from about $321 million in 2018.

It is understood international students will be paying the same fees in 2021 despite courses being offered by distance due to continuing restrictions on international arrivals.

“ANU has made significant efforts to ensure international students can enrol and have a great study experience with us even if they can’t immediately come to campus, so we are pleased to see strong interest is continuing,” the ANU spokesman said.

“There is evidence international students will choose to study in countries with open borders even if those countries are less safe than Australia or don’t offer the great experience they’d get at ANU.

“It’s encouraging to see students are still keen to come to ANU and maintaining this demand will help our post-COVID recovery, but the longer our borders remain closed to international students, the longer this recovery will take.”

The Northern Territory brought about 70 international students to Darwin on a charter flight on November 30.

South Australia had permission to bring about 300 overseas students into the state in November but the plan was postponed until January due to a coronavirus outbreak.

The ACT government has submitted a proposal to the federal government after it got an extension on the November 30 deadline.


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