PBSA Sector Fears Quarantine Will Disrupt Student Return


Fully vaccinated international students are due to return to Australian shores from December 1, welcome news for student accommodation providers who hit “rock bottom” during the pandemic.

Brisbane student accommodation provider Student One has been devastated by the pandemic, and while the announcement of a return of international students has been welcome news, chief executive Tim Weston is worried Queensland would lose out to New South Wales and Victoria, which have scrapped mandatory quarantine measures.

“I would love to say it [has been] bumpy … but I would say it’s been rock bottom,” Weston said.

“It’s hard when you lose 1000 bookings in two weeks ... the market is devastated.

“One of the best things I’ve heard was the announcement from the federal government that international students will be coming back.”

Weston said he was worried Queensland would lose out because of that state’s mandatory quarantine rules.

“We’re not too sure how they’re going to get into Queensland, hopefully we won’t have to send them out to Toowoomba,” he said.

“I do hope that we’ll be seeing people coming back and that they won’t have to go via Sydney or Melbourne.

“We need to work out how we’re going to get people back into Brisbane.”

Under the state’s rules, just 250 international students will be able to come to Queensland each week from early 2022, and will need to undergo mandatory quarantine at a purpose-built facility in Toowoomba at their own expense.

Latest enrolment data from August 2021 shows international student enrolments were down 17 per cent overall when compared to August 2019, but the English language students sector has experienced a 71 per cent drop for the same period.

▲ Student One tower on Adelaide Street in Brisbane.
▲ Student One tower on Adelaide Street in Brisbane.

Weston said 70 per cent of students in Student One accommodation in Brisbane were domestic students, but the impact of a decline in bookings had bitten into the business’ bottom line, as well as a ripple effect on businesses in the CBD.

But the sector was committed to the rejuvenation of CBDs as more universities go vertical in inner-city locations.

“We’ll survive, we’ll come back,” Weston said.

“In the English language market, there used to be 30,000 people enrolled … they’ve all gone. Out of that 30,000, a large proportion of them would have been eating, drinking, going out in the CBD.

“We actually did all of our investments in the CBD because we are seeing students are wanting to be coming to a place where they can have fun, they can get a job, and the excellence in the facilities and the academic facilities.

“[The student hub] was very intentional. If you look at any major city around the world, you will see that student accommodation is moving more into the CBD.

“You also need to look at what the universities are doing ... 80 per cent of the private colleges were in the CBD, the University of Queensland is opening a campus in the CBD, Griffith is talking about going to Roma Street, Torrens is in Fortitude Valley, there is that movement away from regional campuses.”

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has refused to bend on the mandatory quarantine rule for returning international students, which tertiary education institutions fear will cost the sector dearly.

The federal government has allocated $37 million in support to international education providers affected during the pandemic, as well as revising student visa rules.

Federal minister for education and youth Alan Tudge said the announcement would accelerate the Covid recovery process for the 2022 academic year.

“This will help ensure the rapid return of international students,” Tudge said.

“It provides clear incentives for institutions and students and ensures students are not disadvantaged from being prevented from coming to Australia earlier.

“The extension of the Innovation Grants will help English language providers who have been hit hard.”

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