Record floods force closure of Australian campuses

Back-to-campus plans postponed as classes make way for crisis centres

February 28, 2022
water depth indicator in a flooded swamp
Source: iStock

Twenty-one university campuses in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales have been closed by floods, as the region reels from the latest in a series of back-to-back natural disasters.

Seven universities have shuttered some or all of their campuses as floodwaters in a few river systems reach heights never before seen. The Lismore campus of Southern Cross University (SCU), where staff were due back on site on 28 February – for the first time in eight months – instead remained closed to all but flood victims and those involved in the emergency services effort.

The university’s indoor basketball complex was converted into an evacuation centre as a record flood threatens the entire town of almost 30,000 people. SCU’s Gold Coast campus, just across the border in Queensland, was also closed, with authorities set to reassess the situation on the afternoon of 1 March.

The floods closed all campuses of the University of Queensland (UQ), Queensland University of Technology (QUT), the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) and Griffith and Bond universities, while the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) shut its Ipswich and Springfield campuses as precautionary measures.

Classes had been in progress for just a week at UQ, QUT and USQ, where the first semester began on 21 February, while USC’s academic term had been scheduled to start on 28 February.

Instead, all tutorials, workshops, seminars and labs were cancelled both in-person and online. USC’s stadium at its Sunshine campus was being used to accommodate travellers stranded after the main Bruce Highway was closed both to the north and the south.

UQ said that its sites in south-eastern Queensland were closed to all except “critical research and essential staff who can travel safely”. QUT said teaching and learning activities would be cancelled on 28 February and 1 March, and could move online from 2 March following “assessment of the weather and safety situation”.

Bond, where first trimester classes began in mid-January, said it anticipated reopening its campus on 1 March. Griffith, whose first trimester starts in mid-March, promised “more updates to come”.

The floods, which have claimed at least eight lives and devastated hundreds of kilometres of Australia’s eastern coastal plain, follow major inundations in the wake of a tropical cyclone just seven weeks earlier.

Much of the region was still recovering from destructive floods following another cyclone in March 2017. The area was also the early epicentre of the catastrophic Black Summer bushfires in late 2019.

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