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Coronavirus Travel Ban Could Cost Aussie Universities Billions

Australia's universities are scrambling to find solutions to the coronavirus travel ban that could cost them billions, as nearly 100,000 Chinese students remain stranded overseas.

It's too soon to say how much financial damage the coronavirus travel ban will have on universities, Universities Australia told 10 daily.

However, top higher education institutions could lose up to $3.1 billion in fees alone, according to estimates from finance company Standard & Poor's.

These estimates do not include the broader economic contribution of Chinese students to accommodation, tourism or the consumption of goods and services locally.

University Australia says campuses are working hard to contact students. Image: Getty

The figures come after the Department of Trade barred foreigners inside mainland China from entering Australia for two weeks after February 1.

Australian citizens, permanent residents and their families are able to leave but must self-isolate for 14 days after leaving China, DFAT said.

Up to 10 per cent of the Australian National University's total revenue could be wiped out due to the coronavirus crisis, Chancellor Julie Bishop warned on Friday.

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She said of the 5,000 Chinese ANU students enrolled this year, only 1,000 were in Australia when the travel ban was enforced.

"So there are about 4,000 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," she told ABC Radio.

"We certainly don't want to penalise them for matters that are outside their control."

Some ANU students have been affected by the coronavirus travel ban. Image: Google Maps

Around 15,000 Chinese students at the University of Sydney are still overseas, the university told 10 daily.

"That number could also include partners and family members or students coming through pathway programs," a spokesperson said.

"We’ve been in regular contact with students in China and today are writing again to let them know we’re exploring ways they can start their courses remotely, are launching an international hotline and extending the period they can defer without being charged a fee."

15,000 Chinese students at the University of Sydney are believed to be offshore. Image: Getty

The University of Melbourne said they do not have figures of how many Chinese students are currently in limbo overseas.

However, 97,968 Chinese university students are still offshore and will miss the first crucial weeks of classes, Minister for Education Dan Tehan said.

Students fear their education will suffer

The travel ban has caused panic among Chinese students who are worried their education will suffer and have complained of receiving unclear information from universities.

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A Chinese student at the University of NSW told 10 daily he's considering deferring because of the lack of options provided, as well as the significant financial cost.

"It'll impact my progress and [there will be a] delayed graduation. Some companies [in China] take the graduation time as an essential factor to evaluate if the candidate is good," Lin said.

"I still need to pay my rent while my apartment is not occupied. I cannot return to work, which is another important part of my studies. I'm very frustrated and it's now 1.44 am and I cannot sleep because of this."

The University of NSW has been communicating with students on WeChat. Image: Getty

Another student, who studies commerce at the University of Sydney expressed disappointment with the Australian government over the travel ban.

"The university sent us a survey. It seems we have two options; a gap semester or online classes," Olivia said.

"I can't do anything but wait. I'm feeling so anxious. We just want to go back to school like normal students, online classes are just so unacceptable," she said.

UNSW has not said whether it will provide online classes for students. Image: Instagram.

CEO of Universities Australia Catriona Jackson told 10 daily universities were doing everything in their power to lessen disruption and contact students.

"Universities are using every channel available to them to locate students and contact them, including social media," she said.

"We don't want students to feel like there are any additional complications, there are enough complications for these people already facing a very uncertain situation at home," Jackson added.

Students have complained about the lack of information. Image: Getty

Universities are also encouraging the government to take a more flexible approach where attendance quotas for student visas are concerned, Jackson said.

"The number one focus is safety, security and clear information for students," she said.

How have universities responded?

After a student from the University of NSW was confirmed to have tested positive for the coronavirus, the university started posting updates on WeChat - the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp.

Universities are all taking different approaches to the coronavirus crisis. Image: Getty

UNSW said it will also allow students to delay the start of their enrollment but did not say whether online classes will be an option.

The University of Technology Sydney and The University of Adelaide are providing online study options for students.

While the University of Monash in Melbourne has delayed the beginning of classes for two weeks and is providing online options in the meantime.

Security staff checks on the temperature of students entering a university, as public fear over China's Wuhan Coronavirus grows in Manila, Philippines. Image: Getty

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It was not immediately clear how other universities, including the University of Queensland and University of Newcastle, will deal with the crisis.

Education minister Dan Tehan told 10 daily his government is working with the tertiary education sector to minimise the impacts of coronavirus on students.

"We are dealing with the immediate issues of supporting international students impacted by the changed travel arrangements and exploring solutions, such as online learning," Tehan said.

Some students have said online learning is not "acceptable". Image: Getty

"The Government has offered maximum flexibility from the sector regulators, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency and the Australian Skills Quality Authority, to ensure providers can best respond given their circumstances.”

Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek told 10 daily her government supports the measures that have been put in place.

"International education is also a $33 billion export industry - one of Australia’s largest. The international education industry supports 130,000 Australian jobs," Plibersek said.

"Public health and safety of the whole community must always be the top priority. We support the measures that have been put in place – they are based on medical advice."

Contact Eden at egillespie@networkten.com.au