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  • Writer's picturePratibha Sharma

Universities discount fees for international students stuck outside Australia

At least three major institutions offer rebates to people unable to travel due to Covid rules


Universities across Australia are offering discounts of up to 20% to international students who are studying completely online while they are barred from entering Australia due to border restrictions.

At least three major universities are offering discounts to students who are still in their “home” countries while enrolled and paying fees to Australian universities.

The University of Adelaide is offering a rebate of up to 20% for semester 1 this year to new and continuing international students who are “unable to travel to Australia due to border restrictions” but who still are committed to studying in Australia.


The University of Queensland is offering a rebate of 12.5% for students in the same situation, including both part-time and full-time students. To be eligible, students have to be in their “home country” and not in Australia.

As uncertainty continues as to when students can return to Australia, the universities are using the discounts to keep continuing students enrolled and to encourage new sign-ups.

The University of Newcastle is offering a 20% fee waiver this year for “commencing international students who cannot study in Australia due to border closures”.

A university webpage tells international students: “Do not delay your study plans – start studying online and complete your studies in Australia when borders open. For students who commence studies online and offshore, we are offering a discount of up to 20%.”


Data from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment showed that, as of 10 January, approximately 130,000 students who had already enrolled in Australia were still stranded in other countries.

Previously, data from RMIT University in Melbourne showed that new international student enrolments had fallen 25% compared with the same time last year.

And the education minister, Alan Tudge, said in January that it would be “very difficult” for significant numbers of international students to return to Australia in 2021.

The University of Adelaide has established a new international student scholarship for 2021 that can give eligible students between 15% and 30% discounts over the life of their degrees.

Students don’t need to apply for the scholarship – it is “automatically awarded to students who meet the eligibility requirements”.

Any overseas student with the equivalent of an Australian tertiary admission rank of 80 will receive a 15% scholarship (or discount), and a student with an over-90 Atar will get a 30% discount.


Varun Kale, the international student officer at the National Union of Students, said it was only fair to give discounts to international students who spent 2020 studying overseas because they were missing out on in-person education.

“For me, that is the only way that unis can get students, for now at least,” he said. “They should be offering some sort of discount, at least to get some attention, to say to students, ‘We are doing something, it would be great to enrol.’”

But he said discounts should increase and be offered at other universities where students are still paying full price.

“They should give more,” Kale said. “I am an engineering student [and], for me, practical knowledge is everything. If I don’t get that experience – what is the point of paying that amount, even if I am getting a 20% discount?

“From the last two semesters online, the students have complained they haven’t learned the practical knowledge they are supposed to. Many are planning on dropping their studies or under-loading.”


A spokesman for the University of Technology Sydney said it was “not considering” offering similar discounts.

The University of Queensland’s rebate scheme also applied last year, during semester 2 of 2020. A spokeswoman said more than half of all international students at that time, both new and continuing, studied online in their home country.

For 2021, she said, 80% of new international students for semester 1 were offshore.

“Applications from international students are tracking at similar levels to last year, but the uncertainty about travel is likely to affect how many defer or decline their offers,” she said.


Other universities are offering scholarships to international students to attract enrolments.

Charles Sturt University is offering a scholarship of 30% to international students “whose study plans have been impacted by Covid-19 border closures”.

Any international student starting in semester 1 at the Albury-Wodonga, Bathurst, Orange, Port Macquarie and Wagga Wagga campuses can apply, and the university said it “will award as many scholarships as possible, with an intent to reward every eligible student”.

Online-only students are not eligible unless they are only studying online due to the impact of Covid-19.

The University of Adelaide and the University of Newcastle have been contacted for comment.


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