The Australian consumer watchdog has granted permission for NSW and ACT universities to collaborate on the return of international students under the NSW government's recently-announced pilot plan.
The NSW government last week cleared 250 international students to arrive in Sydney each fortnight. They will spend their quarantine period in purpose-built student accommodation.
Under the plan the first international students would touch down around August, the time semester two begins for most NSW universities.
The arrival of these students will be in addition to the 3000 returning Australians arriving in Sydney each week amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The plan, which has been endorsed by NSW Health, NSW Police and all NSW universities, has been submitted to the federal government for review.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said in a statement on Thursday that it had authorised universities in NSW and ACT to collaborate on travel arrangements for returning students.
These arrangements will prioritise students who need to complete practical or on-site course components, the ACCC said.
ACCC chair Rod Sims said the universities would allocate spots under the government's cap based on their 2019 international student enrolments.
They will appoint a joint travel agent to source flights for students, who will be responsible for booking and paying for their flights.
"This interim authorisation will allow universities in NSW and the ACT to start working together immediately to implement a fair and efficient system to get these international students back to Australia," Mr Sims said.
"Using the same travel provider will make the process simpler and easier for the universities, students and government agencies that handle international arrivals and quarantine arrangements."
NSW Health will triage arriving students and direct them to quarantine at approved student accommodation sites. This will occur regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination status.
Treasurer Dominic Perrottet last week said the NSW education sector was worth $14.6 billion in 2019 and directly supported more than 95,000 local jobs.
More than 250,000 international students typically study in NSW each year and future students could choose destinations such as the US, UK or Canada if NSW remains closed.
Mr Perrottet said those countries were now aggressively courting foreign students.
"If we don't act fast, students will turn to other overseas destinations and it could take the sector decades to recover," he said.
The students will be subject to the same NSW Police-overseen quarantine standards as returning Australians in hotels.
Australian Associated Press