Singaporean students disappointed after Australia scraps plans to allow foreign students back

Dentistry student Ryan Chan recently completed his third year at the University of Western Australia, while Ms Tricia Koh will be pursuing occupational therapy at the University of Queensland next year. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF RYAN CHAN AND TRICIA KOH

SINGAPORE - Some Singaporean students studying in Australia, and those who are planning to pursue their studies there next year, are filled with worry following the announcement on Friday (Nov 13) that foreign students will not be allowed to return to Australia in a bid to slow the spread of Covid-19.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the move is to give priority to thousands Australians stuck overseas to return, as there are not enough quarantine facilities.

Australia has capped the numbers of locals allowed to come home each week in order to minimise the risk of spreading Covid-19.

Mr Morrison's announcement comes after Canberra began trials earlier this year to phase in the return of overseas students in 2021.

Dentistry student Ryan Chan, 23, who greeted Friday's news with disappointment, had been looking forward to his reunion with his family in Singapore - whom he has not seen for more than nine months - but now has to put his trip on hold again.

Mr Chan, who recently completed his third year of dental school at the University of Western Australia, said he misses his family dearly but is afraid to fly home for the holidays, not knowing if he would be able to return to Australia in January.

"I Skype my family quite regularly but I really miss spending time with them, as I live alone in a student apartment here. I really miss Singapore food too, especially the hokkien mee in Beach Road," he said.

Mr Chan, who currently works as a waiter at a restaurant, will be starting post-graduate studies next year as part of a six-year dental programme.

"I have to be in school, as I will be taking care of patients and following up on their needs. We will also be doing lab work for a few hours a day, such as learning how to make dentures or practising scaling and polishing," he said.

At the earliest, Mr Chan reckons that he will be able to see his family in July or August next year during a semester break, after more than one year apart.

Meanwhile, Singaporeans who have accepted offers to study in Australian universities are worried they won't be able to travel there when term starts next year.

Ms Tricia Koh, 21, who is pursuing occupational therapy at the University of Queensland in mid-February next year, has paid a $10,000 deposit to stay on campus for the semester.

"The university will not return the deposit, but it will allow me to use the funds for lodging in the second semester should I not be able to travel to Australia in February," she said.

Ms Koh said she has been looking forward to making new friends during orientation and familiarising herself with the campus - and attending classes in person.

"Nothing beats going to school in person and I want to make the best of my education, as school fees are not cheap. My course also includes lab work, so if my first semester is online, all the lab classes will be pushed to Semester 2 and that would be very overwhelming," she said.

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