‘Overreaction’: China students stuck as Australia closes border

More than half the Chinese students enrolled in Australian universities have found themselves stranded in their home country with a new academic year looming after the Australian government imposed a travel ban in response to the coronavirus outbreak.The new term begins in late February at most tertiary institutions and while many new students were expected to arrive in the next couple of weeks for orientation, existing students had returned home for the Lunar New Year.

“Out of 200,000 Chinese international students studying in Australia, 107,000 are still offshore,” said Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia and chair of the International Education Global Reputation taskforce.

“Australia is on the front line of dealing with the [coronavirus] outbreak because of our geographical location and our earlier academic year start date,” Honeywood said.

Chinese students make up almost a third of all international students in Australia and if they are unable to travel to Australia to begin or continue their studies, Honeywood estimates tertiary institutions could lose as much as 8 billion Australian dollars ($5.3bn).

“It’s crucial that we do everything we can to ensure students’ welfare, both in terms of limiting stress and providing distance learning,” he told Al Jazeera. “Institutions are keen to be as flexible as possible … and we’re exploring options with the Chinese government to identify online learning options for students still in China.”

Ban imposed this month

Australia is one of several countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore and New Zealand to introduce a travel ban for non-citizens who have been to China in the past 14 days, including people who have travelled through the country. Multiple airlines have also suspended flights to and from mainland China.

From the start of the month, only citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family members were being allowed to enter Australia from China.

“If you’ve come from mainland China at any time after 1 February, then you’ll be required to isolate for a period of 14 days,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the media on Saturday.

“For anyone other than Australians citizens, Australian residents, dependents, legal guardians or spouses, then you’ll not be permitted entry into Australia.”

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