International students vaccinated against COVID-19 will be able to return to the ACT's universities from the start of the next academic year, in what will be a strong economic boost for the territory.
Students who have received a vaccination recognised in Australia will not need to quarantine on arrival in the ACT before beginning their studies.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the students would need to follow the Commonwealth's vaccination and testing requirements.
"Higher education institutions provide a considerable social and economic contribution to Canberra. The return of international students will be very welcome news for our city," Mr Barr said.
International students contribute $1 billion each year to Canberra, with each student thought to add $50,000 to the ACT economy through tuition fees and other living expenses.
University of Canberra vice-chancellor Professor Paddy Nixon said the return of international students would have a large flow-on benefit to the ACT.
"Our international students become nurses in Canberra hospitals and the allied health professionals that will be supporting Canberrans in their everyday lives," Professor Nixon said.
"As our economy starts to rebound, we will need the talents our international students bring, and we all benefit from the vibrancy they bring to our campus and our city."
Australian National University vice-chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt welcomed the clarity about arrangements for students in the ACT.
"We will continue to work with the Commonwealth on arrangements to open the borders to students as soon as Australia safely can," Professor Schmidt said.
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.
Canberra Institute of Technology chief executive Leanne Cover said the institute welcomed the news international students could return to the ACT.
"We understand how important our international students are to the fabric of the Canberra community, particularly in areas of essential work such as health, hospitality and the building and construction trades," Ms Cover said.
"We look forward to providing quality skills and training to our valued international students and the contribution they make to our local workforce."
The acting rector of UNSW Canberra, Professor Harvi Sidhu, said it was important for international students to return so research work could continue, including in the areas of defence research and capability development.
"We look forward to welcoming international students once again to Canberra," Professor Sidhu said.
About half of the ACT's net overseas migration is accounted for by international students.
A report from the Centre for International Economics, released this week, suggested the ACT budget's assumptions about the number of returning international students was conservative.
The report estimated international students would increase the ACT's gross state product by between $630 million and $990 million a year, and could add between 4000 and 6400 full-time equivalent workers into the economy between now and 2024-25.
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The report said China was the top source of international students in the ACT, accounting for more than 50 per cent of total international enrolments in recent years.
The ACT effort to return international students to the territory is behind NSW's plan to run a pilot program for 500 students to return by the end of the year.
However, universities and the ACT government have been working for more than a year to develop a program to return overseas students to Canberra.
Quarantine arrangements were the biggest barrier for students seeking to return or begin studying in Australia, but with vaccination rates climbing and home quarantine on the horizon, it will be easier for students to return.
The ACT government previously rejected a suggestion from the Australian National University to use space on its campus for quarantine, saying the premises were not suitable.
Opposition Leader Elizabeth used her budget reply speech earlier this month to highlight the importance of bringing back interstate and international students to boost the ACT's post-lockdown economy.
"Canberra is the knowledge capital of Australia and we can be the knowledge capital of the world," Ms Lee said.
"We must work with the Commonwealth government, our universities and the tertiary education sector on a plan to get international students back to our city as soon as we can safely do so."
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