Canberra's universities are still waiting for the ACT government to give them the all clear to restart their international students program.
The resumption of international travel next month has raised hopes for the hard-hit industry, which was heavily reliant on international students.
The ACT government was working towards international students returning in early 2022, behind NSW which aimed to have at least 500 arrive in December. Victoria has also revealed plans for 120 international students per week to arrive by Christmas.
Around 6000 internationals accounted for roughly a third of all Australian National University students, and half were still studying remotely.
The ANU did not have a timeframe for their return, with vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt hoping for an announcement "as soon as I have some clarity".
"We're shooting to have a thousand-plus back for first semester next year. I would personally like to have pretty much anyone and everyone that we can get back by first semester next year," he said.
"But a lot of water has to flow under a bridge, so it may it may take longer than a few weeks."
MORE COVID-19 NEWS:
He warned there were still "a lot of logistical issues" to work through with Home Affairs, the ACT and NSW, which he said would prioritise its own students.
The university has set aside Davey Lodge for on-campus quarantine, which would allow several hundred students to return at a time, though Professor Schmidt said there was no "clear pathway" towards using it.
"I need some help from the ACT government ... just [to] understand what do we need to do to make that happen," he said.
"We need to start thinking about that now."
The Therapeutic Goods Administration has advised that two vaccines unapproved for use in Australia - Sinovac and Covishield - be recognised for incoming travelers, in a move that would facilitate travel from China and India. Professor Schmidt said the measure would have a "huge impact" on international students.
The number of undergraduate international students commencing full-time study at the ANU more than halved between April 2019 and April 2020, though recovered slightly in 2021.
The number of international students commencing postgraduate study followed a similar trend between 2020 and 2021, but has almost returned to its pre-pandemic levels.
The ANU welcomed the ACT's commitment to returning students in early 2022, with a spokesperson saying they would be reintegrated "safely and sensibly".
"We miss our students and they miss us. They make a vital contribution to our campus, our community and Canberra," they said.
"ANU is looking closely at what Australia's border reopening means for our community and operations."
Speaking to the Australian International Education Forum on Friday, Education Minister Alan Tudge warned COVID-19's impact will be felt for years after international students returned.
He confirmed limits would remain in the short-term, but hoped they would be lifted next year allowing a shift to a demand-driven market.
"My expectation is that we will have very significant numbers coming in. I cannot put a figure on that just yet, but my hope would be that tens of thousands can return," he said.
Mr Tudge also stressed a need to diversify Australia's international student intake, saying five countries accounted for 72 per cent of its market, compared to 45 per cent in the UK.
Though he did not explicitly name a country, ongoing tension with China has raised concern in a university sector heavily-reliant on Chinese students.
That threat was laid bare in June 2020, when Beijing urged Chinese students to reconsider studying in Australia as it hit back at the federal government's push for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.
MORE COVID-19 NEWS:
Mr Tudge urged universities to take the lead on the issue, but stressed the government was "thinking deeply" about ways to avoid over-reliance.
"If any one market declines suddenly, then it puts financial risk onto that institution, and subsequently onto the taxpayer," he said.
"Ideally, we would also have a greater diversity of courses in which international students enroll. And in particular, a stronger alignment with Australian skills needs, given that so many international students do stay on and become longer term residents."
There was also scope to develop a long-term market for international students unable to afford in-person international study, with the e-learning industry to grow from $130 billion to over $470 billion by the end of the decade, Mr Tudge said.
He said the government was working on developing its strategy, set for launch later this year.
"The market is enormous and compared to nations like the United Kingdom, we are well behind," he warned.
"I know it is hard to think about the medium term given where we are today, but I am confident that we will bounce back."
Our coverage of the health and safety aspects of this outbreak of COVID-19 in the ACT and the lockdown is free for anyone to access. However, we depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support. You can also sign up for our newsletters for regular updates.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: