Queen’s University Belfast plans to charter a plane at the start of the next academic year, taking a large number of international students from China to Northern Ireland, RTÉ News reported this evening.
The university said the plan’s aim was to reassure international students and their families.
In a statement to RTÉ News, a spokesperson for Queen’s said: “We appreciate that international travel may be difficult over the coming weeks and months with limited flight availability and the need to transfer through busy transport hubs.”
“Therefore, the university has arranged a chartered flight from Beijing exclusively for new and returning students.”
A Qatar Airways plane, which has been chartered, will leave Beijing on September 18th to get students to Belfast for the new academic year on September 21st.
The cost of the plan has not been publicly disclosed by Queen’s. However, the cost to each student will be £616.
A coronavirus test will be administered to each passenger before the flight and only those who test negative and are displaying no symptoms will be allowed to fly. While, a number of staff members from Queen’s will be aboard to deal with queries.
Students who may be required to quarantine, depending on the British Government’s health advice at the time, will go directly from the airport to their accommodation to self-isolate.
Queen’s has said that flights from other regions may be organised subject to demand.
This news comes as Irish universities face losses of up to €200 million in international student revenue next year, a situation described as a “massive blow”, according to one of the sector’s experts.
Jim Miley, the director general of the Irish Universities Association (IUA), told RTÉ Radio 1 in May, that colleges are bracing for an 80 per cent reduction in the number of first-year students coming from abroad next year.
Repeating a call made by Provost Patrick Prendergast a week before, Miley said the government must invest in third-level education in order to enable the sector to “be part of the solution in rebooting the economy” after the coronavirus pandemic.
“What’s critical is that we need supports if we’re to meet those challenges and to be partners in the recovery with government”, Miley added.
He said universities hope the loss of international student revenue “will be temporary – that we will recover this critical business in two to three years”.
In the meantime, though, the fall represents a “massive blow”, he said.
Universities are becoming increasingly vocal in their pleas for government support amid predictions of huge revenue drop-offs.