Over 4,000 international students who attend universities in Australia have signed a petition that aims to delay the start of the university term. This is to protect students coming from China who are affected by emergency legislation which prevents those who have recently been to the Asian nation from entering the country.
Despite the World Health Organisation stating that it does not think travel bans are necessary following the 2019-nCoV outbreak, Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, has implemented the ban as he must put ‘Australia’s national interest first‘. The travel restrictions state that people leaving mainland China will have to wait 14 days from the date of departure before they are able to enter the country, unless they are Australian citizens.
The ban, however, is affecting international students that are studying in Australia who are about to start their new semesters in February. Currently, 62% of Chinese international students are outside the country with some even being detained at Sydney airport as they were travelling while the ban was being put in place.
Abbey Shi, the general secretary of University of Sydney’s student representative council, began the petition in the hopes of the university changing the beginning of term from the 24th February to a later date.
Shi has been supported in this by her student president, Liam Donohoe, who notes the ‘particularly callous’ travel ban is affecting students who ‘haven’t been to Wuhan or other affected areas.’
This travel ban will significantly disrupt the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, who are central to student communities at the University of Sydney and beyond. Many of these students are losing out on learning, work, relationships, and communities, and may never return.
The president of the National Union of Students, Molly Willmott, said:
A lot of experts have come out and said it was an overstep. What the petition is indicative of is the government making decisions without consulting international students or thinking about the long-term impact it can have on students. What happens when you are quarantining students for two weeks? Are there support services in place to support them in that? It is an incredibly stressful and literally isolating time for students.
Currently, University of Sydney has not implemented the delay to term, but they are offering replacement online classes.
In response to the petition, the chair of Universities Australia, Prof Deborah Terry, extended a message to those affected:
We want to ensure as little disruption as possible to your studies – so please keep in touch with your university here in Australia as we keep you updated. You are a vital part of our vibrant, warm, global community of students and scholars.