Students remain in limbo as Australian travel ban extended

Universities scramble to offer ‘targeted solutions’ for Chinese students stranded by coronavirus

February 13, 2020
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Australia’s refusal to accept people flying in from China is set to last for at least another week, as a difficult year for the nation’s universities continues.

The ABC reported that the federal government’s national security committee has decided to extend by seven days a previously announced 14-day travel ban.

While the government had promised to review the travel ban this coming Saturday, it is understood that the decision has already been made based on briefings from health officials.

“This is something we will continue to review on a weekly basis [as we] consider all of the medical evidence coming forward,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

The Group of Eight (Go8), which represents Australia’s research-intensive universities, said it accepted the government’s decision as a safety measure, but it had conveyed “the extent of its concern” for some 68,000 of its members’ 106,000 Chinese students who were stranded in China by the travel ban.

“The Go8 will continue to work with our government and the Chinese Embassy, our affected students and their families, on strategies to ensure that there are a range of temporary study options available so the disruption is as minimal as we can possibly make it,” the Go8 said in a statement.

It said its member universities had contacted each of their affected students and “will continue to produce targeted solutions for these students. Every Go8 university has mitigation strategies in place.”

Acknowledging the continuation of the ban on its website, the Australian National University (ANU) said it was “working hard to make sure that those who can’t be here with us yet still have the…rich campus experience that ANU is known for”.

It added that while semester one classes would commence on 24 February as planned, Chinese students who presented by 10 March should be able to “catch up with any missed classes”. For people unable to arrive by then, the ANU was “exploring a range of options” including “online courses and teaching, weekend catch-up classes and lectures, intensive summer and winter courses and…allowing students to enrol in an increased study load”.

In a videotaped message, Australian education minister Dan Tehan told the stranded Chinese students not to worry. “Our government is working with universities and our counterparts in China to manage this situation and minimise the impact on your education.

“If you choose to do a little more of your study online, your highly regarded, world-class Australian university degree remains valid. The visas of student visa holders who are in China and affected by the current travel restrictions also remain valid.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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