Universities to resume teaching and research

Following an unprecedented three-month shutdown of campuses across Australia because of the coronavirus, universities are preparing to open their doors to students again.

Vice-chancellors welcomed an announcement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday of a “three-step plan to kick-start the Australian economy”.

All universities adopted online learning programmes for students earlier this year to comply with the federal government’s so-called ‘COVID-19 guidelines’.

These required all citizens and students across Australia to maintain physical distancing at all times in every one of the eight states and territories.

Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said universities were considering carefully how best to resume face-to-face teaching when it was considered appropriate to do so.

Jackson said the institutions all welcomed the return to face-to-face teaching in each of the government’s three stages of the plan.

“Universities have been working closely with government and health authorities around a carefully staged return to campus,” Jackson said.

“Small classes in areas very difficult to teach, such as online laboratories, are likely to be an early focus.”

Although students and lecturers were eager to restart face-to-face learning, “a cautious and gradual approach” needed to be taken, she said.

“The safety of our staff, students and communities are the top priority.

“The detailed arrangements will differ from university to university, and from state to state, but all will adhere meticulously to guidance from the medical authorities and governments.”

Jackson acknowledged a “step three referenced international student travel” plan for tens of thousands of foreign students, many of whom returned to their homes overseas when the virus emergency began.

“We welcome the inclusion of international student travel down the track, in step three,” she said. We are keen to welcome all our students, from home and abroad, back to face-to-face teaching, but when it is safe to do so,” Jackson said.