The International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) on Friday urged the federal government to set-up a dedicated hotel quarantine system for international students.

In a statement, the IEAA said it would “pay whatever it takes” to restart the lucrative international education industry, which has been crippled by the coronavirus pandemic, reports Xinhua news agency.

The number of international students studying in Australia has fallen by more than 200,000 since the country’s borders were closed in March 2020 to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison had previously declared that more than 40,000 Australians who remain stranded overseas would be given priority to return the country.

Under the IEAA proposal students would not take quarantine places from Australians.

“There’s no reason why we can’t have charter flights bringing these students in, walking them across the tarmac into separate quarantine facilities that are not going to be competing with the hotel quarantine for Australian returnees,” IEAA Chief Executive Phil Honeywood told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

“The industry is prepared to pay whatever it takes for additional Australian Defence Force and for police to ensure that it all happens properly, with only one point of entry and one point of exit.”

Data released by Universities Australia in February revealed that the higher education sector lost A$1.8 billion in revenue in 2020 and cut more than 17,000 jobs.

Honeywood said that the longer Australia remained closed to international students the further it would fall behind other countries in a competitive industry.

“Canada and the UK, our two biggest competitors, have kept their borders open for a whole year and are flying international students in for face-to-face teaching in the universities,” he said.

“We are really destroying an industry that’s taken decades to build.”

In response to the IEAA, Education Minister Alan Tudge said that the government would consider any proposals from universities.

“But it must be quarantine beds above those already in existence and must be signed off by the state’s chief medical officer,” he said.

–IANS

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