THE University of Newcastle (UON) will put its hand up to pilot a program that will bring international students back from overseas and into quarantine, so they can resume their studies this year.
Pro Vice-Chancellor (COVID-19 Response Leader) Learning and Teaching, Professor Liz Burd, said UON was working on a proposal for government "to see if we can get any interest".
She said Australia had already shown it was possible to safely repatriate citizens to spend 14 days in self-isolation and she'd like to see the same approach used for international students, particularly those who need to complete their studies.
UON has 2500 international students still overseas.
"I would hope that Newcastle would be seen very positively both by the state and certainly by the Commonwealth government for being one of those institutions that they might see as perhaps being a pilot for the bringing in of more international students," she said.
"We're working in a very determined way to try make sure we enable students to have a face to face experience.
"We were lucky in the level of infection in Newcastle was much lower in comparison to Sydney, partly because there's so much more space here."
She said the federal government's three-step plan meant the earliest students could return would be July.
"But if they brought them in July, put them in quarantine for two weeks that gives me an extra week or maybe two before term starts, so there's a very strong possibility that still could work."
She said UON would "probably" be willing to foot part of the bill.
"I suspect the students might pay for the flight, we might pay for the accommodation and maybe the government will provide the border security services," she said.
"I'm sure we would be open to discuss whatever arrangements need to be made."
A portion of campus accommodation remains reserved for the students.
She said while UON wasn't as financially disadvantaged by the loss of international students as other institutions, the cohort's absence had been felt in a loss of diversity in the classroom and internationalisation of the institution.
"International students are important for us now in terms of our diversity, but they're also even more valuable in terms of telling their future colleagues and future generations about how well looked after they were when they were in Australia and by their host institution."
Vice Chancellor Alex Zelinsky AO has said UON expects to lose $58 million in income.
Professor Burd said this was an "end of year scenario and there are things we can do to make that better", including encouraging enrolments.
She said more than 200 people had enrolled in free UON online short courses and 120 international students were preparing to sign articulation agreements.
"If however it were to go the other way then as an institution we have to make some hard decisions.
"With any circumstance where you're put under financial pressure somebody is always going to be disadvantaged by it.
"That's not to mean that there might not be somebody who had hoped to have more hours or get their existing contract extended who ends up being disappointed, but I'm hopeful that we have a means to minimise that as much as we can by using positive opportunities."