“Issues of international students, you’ll note that it does come into the third step of the [exit] plan, that is a possibility,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said earlier this month, when he unveiled the nation’s three-step plan to easing Australia’s coronavirus restrictions.

“We are open to that, and would be working with institutions to see how that could be achieved.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt said universities should put forward suggestions about how they could bring international students back to campuses.

“We are welcoming of proposals for universities, subject to it being at the same time as their general student populations, to look at means of bringing back through supervised, stringent quarantine, international students,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday.

The closure of Australia’s borders and subsequent loss of international students has hit the higher education sector hard.

The government’s early move to stop people coming from China was especially damaging, with that country the largest source of international students to Australia.

While each university has a different exposure to the downturn, it is estimated that, nationwide, revenue will drop by $3 billion this year.

That could cause the loss of up to 21,000 jobs, with 7000 estimated to be research-related academic positions.

International education is Australia’s fourth-largest export contributing $39 billion to the national economy every year. 

In 2018, tertiary educators raked in $8.84 billion in fees from overseas students – 26 per cent of their total revenue.