Education Minister Dan Tehan has disputed reports Australian universities will have their own quarantine facilities for Chinese students to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The Sydney Morning Herald
Reports on Friday said universities were looking at quarantining thousands of international students on regional campuses or in student accommodation to reduce disruption to the start of the semester.
But Mr Tehan said there will be no move to quarantine students unless medical advice changes.
“What we have to do is listen to and abide by the medical advice and that is what we’re doing and that is what the university sector is doing,” he told reporters at the University of Melbourne.
Since February 1, foreign nationals have been barred from entering Australia within 14 days of leaving China.
The travel ban has left nearly 100,000 Chinese students with valid visas stranded outside Australia.
Mr Tehan said the government was looking at extending the visas of affected students.
“When it comes to you getting a degree we want to be able to provide flexibility so you can study online, you can study remotely and that won’t impact the world-class degree you’ll get here in Australia,” he said.
Some universities have pushed the start of the semester back one week, while others are looking at offering online classes, Mr Tehan added.
But helping students access learning material in China may pose a challenge, with websites such as Google and YouTube blocked on the mainland.
The Australian National University in Canberra has about 5000 Chinese students enrolled for this year, although only 1000 were in Australia when the travel ban was put in place.
“So there are about 4000 students that we will be supporting to continue to deliver courses to them while they’re overseas, but hopefully they’ll be there in time to start either the first or second semester,” the university’s chancellor, former foreign minister Julie Bishop told ABC Radio.
“We certainly don’t want to penalise them for matters that are outside their control.”
There are roughly 164,000 Chinese students attending university in Australia, pumping billions of dollars into the national economy.
Ms Bishop said the virus could cut up to 10 per cent off the university’s total revenue.
“That would depend very much on whether we can continue to deliver the courses that the students have enrolled in,” she said.
Mr Tehan said it was too early to assess the impact of the coronavirus on the education sector.
“We won’t know until we see the full extent of the virus and the impact it has, especially on travel restrictions – the longer they have to continue for, obviously the greater the impact it will have,” he said.
International students with concerns relating to the coronavirus are being urged to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1300 981 621 for support. The service is bilingual.