The ACCC has made its final decision allowing New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory universities to collaborate on travel arrangements for the return of international students for 15 months.

A recently announced NSW Government pilot plan enables the staggered return of fully vaccinated international students to resume their studies. The first phase of the plan is to bring back 500 students by the end of the year.

The ACCC’s final determination granting authorisation allows the participating universities to co-operate in implementing a system for returning international students, through the pilot program and continuing after the pilot, while limits on returning students and quarantine arrangements remain in place.

“The authorisation provides the universities with an exemption from competition law so they can collaborate and follow through with the NSW Government’s policy to allow for the return of international students to local universities,” ACCC Commissioner Stephen Ridgeway said.

The participating universities will be able to decide, jointly, the best way to allocate spots under the NSW Government cap, based on their 2019 international student enrolments. Each university will then independently decide which overseas students are offered the opportunity to return first.

They will also be able to work together to appoint a travel services provider to source flights and organise travel for returning students. Students will be responsible for booking and paying for their own flights.

“By being able to use the same travel provider, for example, the process is simpler and easier for the universities, students and government agencies to handle international arrivals and quarantine arrangements,” Mr Ridgeway said.

“A travel provider is also more likely to be able to source more economic flights than if students purchased their airfares independently.”

“Nothing in the ACCC’s decision alters the application of the Federal and State Government rules in relation to capacity limits, quarantine or funding,” Mr Ridgeway said.

The participating universities received interim approval from the ACCC in June 2021 to commence the arrangements.

In light of ongoing delays in international students being able to return to Australia stemming from the continued international travel restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the ACCC granted the universities’ request that the authorisation extend until 31 December 2022 (rather than June 2022 as initially proposed).

More information, including the ACCC’s Interim Authorisation Decision, draft determination and final determination, is available at: UniProjects Pty Limited & Ors.


The participating universities are:

  • Australian Catholic University
  • Australian National University
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Southern Cross University
  • Macquarie University
  • University of Canberra
  • University of Newcastle
  • University of New England
  • University of New South Wales
  • University of Notre Dame
  • The University of Sydney
  • University of Technology Sydney
  • Western Sydney University
  • University of Wollongong.

Other universities with campuses in NSW and/or the ACT are also able to participate in the arrangements.

The Federal Government has developed protocols that outline the steps for states and territories and education institutions to prepare for international student arrivals, including requirements for students to quarantine for 14 days, like other arrivals from overseas.

Under these protocols the NSW Government has set an initial cap of 250 student arrivals each fortnight.

The first phase of the NSW Government’s pilot plan will commence once NSW reaches its 70 per cent vaccination target. The pilot plan will slowly expand and evolve as vaccination rates continue to rise in NSW and internationally.

In June 2021, the ACCC granted interim authorisation for the universities to begin collaborating.

Notes to editors

An ACCC authorisation provides statutory protection from court action for conduct that might otherwise raise concerns under the competition provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act (CCA).

The CCA allows the ACCC to grant interim authorisation when it considers it is appropriate. This allows the parties to engage in the proposed conduct while the ACCC is considering the merits of the substantive application.

Broadly, the ACCC may grant an authorisation when it is satisfied that the likely public benefit from the conduct outweighs any likely public detriment.