Coronavirus: almost all Australian universities head online

More institutions desert on-campus programmes as government moves the goalposts

March 18, 2020
Online learning
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Australian universities are moving wholesale into online delivery, as increasingly stringent “social distancing” guidance forces them to pull lectures and tutorials off campus.

Seven more Australian institutions declared that their teaching would be delivered primarily or entirely remotely, after prime minister Scott Morrison announced that gatherings of 100 or more – down from a limit of 500 announced five days previously – would be banned.

While universities are exempt from the veto, most voluntarily embraced the limit of 500 and will be keen to comply with the new benchmark.

Fourteen universities have now announced “pauses” to their academic calendars as they fast-track programme changes mostly designed to shift their offerings online, although three universities – Deakin, Monash and University of Technology Sydney – are overhauling their campus delivery to make it compliant with the social distancing guidelines, such as seating students at least 1.5 metres apart and reducing the duration of large group activities.

Another 31 universities have now announced their intention to move substantially or completely online for at least the current teaching term.

Most are phasing in these plans. Lectures are the first to go remote, followed by tutorials and – where possible – clinical, practical and laboratory-based sessions.

Southern Cross University said that all its degrees would be available online from 23 March. Vice-chancellor Adam Shoemaker warned that sessions where online delivery was not feasible, such as clinical health and teaching placements, could also face closure.

“While essential campus facilities remain available, we are reducing every risk we can identify,” he said.

Murdoch University said that a planned study break from 23 March would be extended by a week as all lectures and tutorials were transferred online. “We will be working together with you to plan alternatives for units that have labs, clinics, studios and other face-to-face requirements that are difficult to replicate online,” vice-chancellor Eeva Leinonen told students.

Victoria University and James Cook University (JCU) said that on-campus teaching activities would be paused for a week from 23 March as programmes were transferred online. JCU said that nursing would be taught remotely from 23 March, with most programmes following on 30 March and all other courses from 6 April.

University of Western Australia interim vice-chancellor Jane Den Hollander announced a “mass online migration”, with lectures, tutorials and – where possible – practical classes moved to online-only formats from 23 March.

Central Queensland University plans to transfer all face-to-face teaching online from 23 March. Torrens University is closing its campuses from 23 March, with all teaching delivered online for the remainder of the first trimester.

Just six universities – Adelaide, Edith Cowan, Federation, Notre Dame Australia, the University of the Sunshine Coast and UNSW Sydney – are yet to announce wholesale moves into online teaching. “We are a public education provider and will follow the advice of government,” a Federation spokeswoman said.

Adelaide said that enrolments and classes were continuing as normal, with online options available for students who did not wish to attend campus.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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