International students preparing to return to Australia for their 2020 studies have been left in the lurch after Scott Morrison announced new travel restrictions in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
The prime minister announced that foreign nationals who have left or passed through mainland China will now be denied entry into the country.
Morrison said the ban would be enforced immediately and last at least two weeks, in an effort to contain the spread of the deadly virus.
The news followed South Australia confirming two new coronavirus cases - a Chinese couple in their 60s - bringing the national total to 12.
The tertiary sector
During the announcement, Morrison said “the broader economic impacts” of the decision were not the government’s first concern, but that they were being “mindful of it”.
“We have also tasked the Education Minister particularly to work with the tertiary sector to identify additional measures and precautions that will see the least disruption possible to this year for international students,” he said.
“That can mean the delaying of the commencement of courses, the providing of courses online in the initial phases, the delaying of orientation weeks.
“Many universities are putting those arrangements in place.”
Universities are now working to enforce their emergency policies as students flood their inboxes with questions and concern.
At some of Australia’s top universities, Chinese international students make up to 20 per cent of student populations.
The University of Sydney said commencing students “who have been impacted and unable to travel to commence their studies the option to defer or have their fees refunded”.
“We will try and support any continuing student who is able to demonstrate that their studies have been constrained by being unable to leave the Hubei province or coming into contact with an affected person,” the university said in a statement.
Monash University in Melbourne has delayed the start of the academic year for all students pushing it back to March 9.
The university said the coronavirus has created an “unprecedented situation where some of our community of students and staff will not make it back in time... for the commencement of semester 1, 2020”.
“We have made these decisions to ensure the entire Monash staff and student body is able to begin the semester together with the highest regard for community wellbeing.”
International students who are affected by the travel ban are encouraged to contact their university directly.
Industry peak body Universities Australia has said it will also attempt to help students affected by the ban.
Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said universities across the country will seek to extend offers including online study and deferred start date options.
“Our universities will continue to adhere meticulously to the advice of health and immigration authorities while managing the impact for our students,” she said.
“Our focus is on safeguarding the health and safety of everyone in university communities, and minimising any disruption to study, exams and assessment.”
The body will meet with Education Minister Dan Tehan on Monday to discuss how to minimise the impacts of this decision on Australia’s education providers.
Federal Education Minister, Dan Tehan has said, “the safety of all Australians remains our Government’s number one priority”.
In addition to meeting with Universities Australia, Tehan has “asked the Council for International Education’s Global Reputation Taskforce to convene on Monday to discuss this advice and any necessary responses”.