Charles Darwin University is in discussions to potentially fly its Chinese students back to Darwin by charter flights, following warnings by the Chinese government to the students not to resume studies in Australia over “racist incidents”.
The NT Independent understands CDU has spoken with the NT and Federal Governments about an arrangement that could see the students quarantined at the former Inpex workers camp at Howard Springs for 14 days.
The operation could be part of a federal “pilot program” focused on the safe return of international students to Australia, which Prime Minister Scott Morrison flagged on Friday after a National Cabinet meeting.
CDU Vice-Chancellor Simon Maddocks told the NT Independent nothing had been finalised and that discussions are ongoing.
“Prime Minister Scott Morrison referenced discussion about a pilot program – possibly beginning next month – that would aim to test the processes needed to enable the safe return of international students in ‘a very controlled setting’,” he said in a statement.
“It is currently too early to comment on the possibility of a pilot program operating in the Northern Territory.”
The announcement follows the ramping up of a diplomatic stoush between Australia and China.
China’s Ministry of Education this week cautioned its students from studying in Australia due to “racist incidents” during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also suggested coronavirus presented a risk if they wanted to study overseas.
Prof Maddocks said universities across the country were having discussions with both levels of government around the return of all foreign students to Australia.
“CDU is holding similar discussions with the Australian and Northern Territory governments,” he said in a statement.
“Universities Australia, the peak body for the higher education sector, has been engaging with the Australian Government for some time about an overarching framework for the return of international students that would maintain the safety and welfare of the community.
“How this process might work is still the subject of discussions.”
It remains unclear how much the “pilot program” would cost or who would pick up the bill.
CDU’s largest contingent of international students hail from China, India and Nepal, according to an annual report.
The university did not answer a question over how many Chinese or international students would be brought back under the current proposal.