Coronavirus Singapore

Students welcome chance to go back to schools, or return home

Since Covid-19 travel restrictions stopped medical student Sarah Kwok from returning to classes in Australia, she has made up for the difficulties of learning clinical skills remotely by practising on her family in Singapore.

Still, the second-year student at the University of Adelaide has struggled to replicate exactly what her tutors demonstrate via videoconferencing platform Zoom for the past 19 months.

The 21-year-old said: "There was no supervision, and I didn't know if what I was doing was correct."

She was among six students who told The Straits Times that they welcomed the much-delayed travel bubble plans confirmed by Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday.

The arrangement could be in place by Nov 23 and would allow fully vaccinated international students to enter Australia.

"With this travel bubble, I will be able to go back and catch up," said Ms Kwok, who is due to return to school under Australia's international student arrival plan, which will allow her to fly back at the end of this year or early next year.

Australia has had one of the world's strictest Covid-19 travel restrictions, with non-Australian residents banned from entering the country.

These curbs have contributed to the loss of about 100,000 international students and cost the economy around $10 billion.

Earlier this year, a Singaporean undergraduate at Monash University petitioned the Australian Parliament to permit Singaporean students to enter the country to resume campus learning.

The petition received 1,090 signatures and was presented in Australia's Parliament.

Meanwhile, those who continued their studies in Australia are looking forward to spending holidays with their families in Singapore.

University of Tasmania student Nitesh Pillay Ravichandar, 24, for example, has not been back in Singapore since February last year.

The third-year law student told ST that the uncertainty of whether he would be able to return from Singapore and the low number of community infections in Tasmania were among reasons that stopped him from flying home.

The president of the university's Singapore Students' Society noted that the number of Singapore students studying there has dropped from about 60 to around 20.

"This bubble not only benefits us as international students but the universities as well," he said, adding that this will help the representation of international students in Australia.

Meanwhile, Mr Aloysius Low, 23, is wary that the air travel bubble might be hampered yet again.

In June, the prime ministers of Australia and Singapore said the two nations would work towards an air travel bubble. But just days later, infections surged in Sydney and Melbourne, sending both cities into long lockdowns.

In July, plans for the travel bubble were put on hold.

Mr Low, a third-year commerce student at the University of Melbourne, has been studying in Singapore since March last year. He said more than half of his university life has been done virtually due to border restrictions. "This has really taken away the experience of an international education."

While excited at the possibility of seeing her family after 21 months, clinical psychology student Heather Gan, 26, who is studying for a PhD at the University of Wollongong near Sydney, echoed Mr Low's concerns.

She said: "Hopefully, this time, it comes to fruition."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2021, with the headline 'Students welcome chance to go back to schools, or return home'. Subscribe