An Australian university is offering up to $7,500 in grants to students stranded in China due to the outbreak of novel coronavirus.
The University of Melbourne has offered to reimburse expenses related to forfeited flights, accommodation and remote study workarounds by those students who have been affected by the Australian government’s continuing ban on entry to foreign nationals who have travelled through mainland China.
The ban has been in force since 1 February and extended twice. It is due to expire on 29 February but is being reviewed weekly. Australian citizens and permanent residents are exempt from the ban.
The University of Melbourne is the third Australian university to offer financial assistance to stranded students.
The University of Adelaide emailed its affected students last week to offer “care packages” including discounted fees and a financial contribution towards air fares of up to $2,000. It also offered to completely refund semester fees to any student who couldn’t make it onto campus by the end of semester due to the outbreak.
On Friday, Western Sydney University announced it was “encouraging its students – who are currently offshore, and impacted by travel restrictions – to consider the option of travelling to Australia via another country” and that it was offering a one-off $1,500 subsidy to assist them.
Australian universities have come under particular pressure from the effects of the coronavirus outbreak due to their economic reliance on international, full-fee-paying students.
Universities are facing an estimated $1.2bn hit to fee revenue from an estimated 65,800 students at risk of cancelling their enrolment due to being stuck outside the country.
The University of Melbourne provost, Prof Mark Considine, said in a statement that the university’s “number one priority” was the health and wellbeing of the university community.
“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,” Considine said.
“The student support grants are intended to help students with unanticipated expenses incurred as a result of the travel restrictions related to Covid-19 and to help students transition to or return to study at the University of Melbourne,” he said.
The grant would help students with accommodation costs, fees associated with flight changes, costs incurred during the mandatory 14-day self-isolation period, and technology upgrades to help with remote study.
Students needed to be scheduled for on-campus study in the summer term or semester one of this year to be eligible to access the grant.
The government has said it will consider relaxing the travel ban at the end of the month.
The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, announced a slight relaxation to the ban on Saturday to allow Chinese students in years 11 or 12 – other than those from Hubei province, the locus of the outbreak – to return to Australia.
An estimated 400 year 12 students and 360 year 11 students enrolled in Australian schools were stuck outside the country due to the travel ban and are now eligible to apply for an exemption.
The travel ban is due to be reviewed again in the coming days.