Australian campuses offer cash, discounts to China students

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian universities are offering Chinese students stranded in their homeland travel money and discounted tuition and the largest campus delayed the start of the academic year, trying to keep their lucrative enrollments amid a viral outbreak.

Australia’s ban on travel from mainland China will not be lifted before classes begin at most universities next week, the government said yesterday.

International education is Australia’s third-biggest source of foreign earnings, and China is Australia’s largest source of foreign students, with 200,000 attending Australian universities.

Western Sydney University advised students they could get around the flight ban by quarantining themselves in a third country for two weeks. It offered its 300 students in China AUD1,500 toward the added cost of taking that route to Sydney.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the China travel ban that started on February 1 would be extended for another week until at least March 7. He said no exception would be made for the thousands of Chinese students, despite their importance to the economy.

“It means they’re not in the country, which means they’re not participating in the economy,” Morrison said.

Prestigious University of Melbourne offered students affected by the new COVID-19 illness “support grants” of up to AUD7,500 to cover costs including 14-day self-quarantines, flight changes and Internet upgrades to allow online tuition.

“We understand this has been a difficult time for students who have been affected and we are working hard to ensure they can complete their studies on time,” university Provost Mark Considine said.

University of Adelaide has offered a 20 per cent discount to stranded Chinese students on their first semester tuition fees and a reimbursement of up to AUD2,000 on their travel costs to Australia once restrictions are lifted.

The university has informed the affected students “that an individual study plan has been developed for them, and the flexible approaches that will be available for their studies to begin remotely” next week, it said in a statement.

Monash University, Australia’s largest with 80,000 students, has extended its summer break by two weeks in the hope that students and staff can return from China by then. The academic year will start March 16, upsetting the student union which is concerned that there will be less time to study between the end of classes and the start of exams.

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson, a spokeswoman for the sector, said it was too early to assess the financial impact the disease outbreak would have on campuses.

Universities had been prepared for the travel ban extension, she said.

“For students who remain in China, they have been provided with a range of options including postponing course start dates, delaying assessments, offering fee-free deferrals and being able to access course content online,” she said in a statement.