The vice-chancellors of Canberra's two major universities say a plan to return international students to Australia was not about boosting budgets as details about the pilot program have been revealed.
Next month ANU and University of Canberra will organise a charter flight for up to 350 students who were already studying at the institutions but were barred from re-entering Australia because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Australian National University vice-chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said international students who were already enrolled would be first in line to return to Australia next month to continue their studies.
"I think there is a false understanding that somehow we're doing this for money, but these students are enrolled and paying their fees," he said.
"So we're doing this to serve our students and our hope is students around Australia and around the world will be reminded that the ACT, University of Canberra and ANU will do what it takes for their students and their education."
University of Canberra vice-chancellor Paddy Nixon said the program was not about the budget in the short term.
"In the long term, certainly we as a university and as a sector are very keen to rebuild our international student base, but that's not our first issue at this moment in time. It's really about how we support our existing students."
Older students in research or postgraduate courses as well as students completing honours programs or those who are in their final year of their undergraduate degree will be considered for the pilot program.
The students will need to get to a central hub location, most likely an airport in the Asia-Pacific region, where they will be able to board a direct charter flight to Canberra at their own expense.
Students will be required to spend 14 days in quarantine in a hotel on arrival with meals and accommodation to be paid for by the universities.
Professor Schmidt said older students were better placed to cope with a 14-day quarantine period as they already had deep ties with Canberra and the university.
"We believe as we find how to quarantine effectively they will find the whole process a bit more forgiving than, for example, a brand new student who's never been to Canberra and never been away from their family."
The ANU currently has 2800 international students offshore in 50 countries, which represents about 40 per cent of the total international student intake.
Professor Nixon said his university had more than 400 continuing international students that would be invited to the program, but the final numbers would be determined by which students were willing and able to get to the hub city for the charter flight.
Professor Nixon said the ACT was well-placed to be the first jurisdiction to introduce the pilot program.
"There's good reasons why it's in the ACT. We've already done repatriation flights. It's one city, one flight. It's a small number of universities and it can be managed in a careful way.
"This isn't about being the first. It's about building the reputation of Australia and the higher education sector to bring back students as part of our community."
Professor Schmidt said he was hopeful the international student pilot program proposal from the two universities put to the federal government would be approved in the next week.
"Our students are crying out to get back to campus. They do really miss it. And while I think we've done a really good job here and our staff are catering for this crazy long-distance learning, ANU really prides itself on being a really great campus to be on."
The flight is expected to arrive at Canberra Airport in July.