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He said the travel entry ban on non-citizens who have been in mainland China in the past month had had an impact on universities, English language colleges and schools relying on the arrival of 200,000 Chinese students. He said students who had not been in mainland China for the last month could expect to return to Australia from other countries.

While some universities were willing to support students unable to return with online learning, delayed enrolment and tuition refund options, Mr Honeywood said Beijing’s support was needed to make online teaching available in China.

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Mr Tehan said the Australian government had offered maximum flexibility from the sector regulators, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency and the Australian Skills Quality Authority, to ensure providers could best respond given their circumstances.

“Our government will work to provide surety to students and academics whose visas are impacted by the Australian government’s response to the coronavirus.

“Just as importantly, I heard from the universities about the specific impacts this situation is having on their students,” he said. “We agreed to explore all avenues to minimise the impact of the coronavirus and we have agreed to meet again next week.”

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Mr Honeywood said education providers needed certainty over the number of Chinese students in Australia. The government said on Monday night it had provided the Universities Australia board with the latest data on the number of international Chinese students.

A telephone hotline had opened for international students (1300 981 621, 8am to 8pm, Monday to Friday) and the Study in Australia website was providing  daily updates. Chinese students required to quarantine themselves in Australia would also be provided with care packages and access to an online buddy system for support.

“We are also making sure the Chinese government through their embassy and consulates are kept aware of everything the taskforce is attempting to do for Chinese students,” Mr Honeywood said.

The taskforce is also working on getting feedback from education and accommodation providers in the hope of relaxing refund policies for students unable to return to Australia in time for their classes.

“There was a genuine spirit of collaboration by all involved,” Mr Honeywood said.

Anna Patty is Workplace Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald. She is a former Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter.

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