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Regulations relaxed in Australia as new taskforce focuses on coronavirus

Standard operational procedures for education providers in Australia are being relaxed so that discrepancies in attendance and facilitating online study can be accommodated, as the education sector pivots to cope with temporary travel restrictions from China.

A Global Reputation Taskforce set up by Minister Dan Tehan (centre) in the wake of the bushfires has expanded its remit.

50% of full-fee paying high school students in Australia are from China, with a new school year just beginning

“Where providers determine that enrolment in a wholly online or distance learning mode of study is in the student’s best interest for semester 1 or trimester 1 2020, TEQSA will not pursue regulatory action,” announced industry regulator TEQSA.

“ASQA acknowledge the challenges providers’ face,” reiterated Saxon Rice, chief commissioner at ASQA, which regulates VET and English language providers.

“Providers may wish to consider extending online or distance components of courses for impacted overseas students during the first half of 2020 or implement similar measures.”

Meanwhile, IEAA’s Phil Honeywood, the chair of a new Global Reputation Taskforce, has warned of a AUS$8 billion dollar risk as the travel ban impacts many of the 200,000 Chinese students typically hosted annually in the country.

“Most of the new and continuing students have been caught off guard because many were brought home to celebrate Chinese new year,” he said.

While educators rally to work out how to deliver an education to Chinese students unable to get to Australia, Honeywood went on national TV to explain some of the many difficult dimensions to the situation.

He underlined that 50% of full-fee paying high school students in Australia are from China, with a new school year just beginning.

“We’ve got a massive impact across the whole range of the education sector,” he said.

Some Chinese students have pets left in boarding kennels and are unable to return

He also described accommodation operators getting in touch to alert him that some Chinese students, two years into a three year degree, have pets left in boarding kennels and are unable to return to Australia because of the travel ban.

Honeywood also acknowledged there could be a challenge in “the extent to which the government of China is willing to facilitate online learning and video-based teaching by Australian schools and universities into China”.

The Australian government announced a travel ban on February 1 for two weeks, for Chinese nationals entering the country, barring Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family.

Those able to enter are also being advised to self-quarantine for 14 days.

An international student at UNSW was confirmed as being one of the 12 (at the time of publication) travellers having tested positive for coronavirus in Australia.

The country’s largest university, Monash University in Melbourne, has delayed the start of classes on campus, while the University of Sydney is offering affected students additional time to enrol or defer.

English Australia is holding a webinar with Austrade on Wednesday February 12 to focus on specific actions being undertaken to support English language students.

IEAA and Austrade are also hosting a webinar for all stakeholders on Monday February 10.

Meanwhile, social media was reporting that the overnight nature of the travel restrictions had created difficult scenes of Chinese students landing in Australia only to be told they had to return immediately.

Universities Australia confirmed it held a meeting on February 3 with education minister Dan Tehan “to identify further measures to minimise disruption caused by new travel restrictions imposed on February 1″.

“That offer of ‘maximum flexibility’ from government is so important,” said UA chair, professor Deborah Terry. “We appreciate the commitment to work closely together through the challenges this situation presents.

Professor Terry said Australian universities and the government were “as one” in sending a strong message of support to our students in China.

“To our students still in China – our care, concern and empathy are with you,” she said, underlining that the UA board will meet the minister again next week.

Extolling support to Chinese students also onshore, Terry noted, “You are crucial members of our close-knit university communities – and we will meet this challenge together.”

“We will meet this challenge together”

Minister Tehan announced the formation of a Global Reputation Taskforce following a meeting of international education stakeholders on January 21 about the impacts the bushfire crisis has had.

A participant of the Taskforce, the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia, has said the impact of the coronavirus on the independent tertiary education sector is currently being assessed in order to develop strategies to support both students and providers.

Australia’s independent tertiary education sector enjoys a strong international reputation, with independent providers supporting around 90% of all international students undertaking vocational education and training.

Government data for February 2020 suggests that the vocational education and training sector was set to support some 13,604 students that were residents of China.

Of these some 10,935 are already in Australia with a further 2,669 holding a student travel visa still outside the country, ITECA noted.

“As new challenges arise, we’ll collaborate with the Australian government”

“Our interest is in supporting these students through the current difficulties and ensuring that when current travel restrictions are lifted, the students are able to undertake their studies in Australia and access the quality outcomes that independent providers offer,” said Troy Williams, ITECA chief executive, in a statement on February 5.

“As new challenges arise, we’ll collaborate with the Australian government on developing an appropriate response.”

International education is the country’s fourth-biggest export industry and around 29% of all international students in Australian universities are from China, a number that is growing at around 10% per year.

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