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Byron Shire
February 1, 2023

Domestic uni students resume study online at SCU while international students remain locked out

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More than a week into third semester, Southern Cross University [SCUoperators say students will have to continue learning online thanks to Covid 19 concerns and restrictions.

Face-to-face education is expected to resume from the 19thof July, operators said via a media release sent on Friday.

But the return to classroom learning was subject to state health authority advice, the statement read.

Authorities reported 159 new cases of Covid 19 in NSW over the weekend directly following the media release, with nearly half that number reported to have been in the community whilst infectious.

QR codes, masks mandatory at SCU

SCU Vice President (Operations) Allan Morris was last week thanking the Southern Cross community for its flexibility.

‘We deeply appreciate the efforts students and staff are making to comply with the public health orders and the understanding you have of Southern Cross’s desire to keep these important decisions uniform across all campuses, in two states,’ Mr Morris said via last week’s media release, referring to SCU campuses in Queensland as well as in Lismore.

The statement went on to outline new pandemic protocols on campus.

‘QR code check-in is now required by building at all campuses,’ the statement read, emphasising the lack of an option to scan in by campus in-general.

‘For our Queensland campuses, use Check In Qld app (Service NSW app will no longer be used),’ the statement went on, ‘Service NSW app is required to check in and out of the Lismore and Coffs Harbour campuses’.

Operators said anyone without a suitable mobile device needed to manually register with Campus Security and use a student or staff card to swipe into each building, ‘even if the building is open’.

Masks also had to be worn at campuses in both states and border passes arranged while relevant state directives applied.

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Halfway through Orientation Week, University Engagement Vice President Ben Roche said enrolment numbers at SCU were strong.

Mr Roche said operators had continued to see around about a 13 to 16% increase in enrolment numbers before the semester officially began, depending on course and location.

Students were being inducted online rather than in-person as planned, but Mr Roche said operators had seen a ‘trend in Covid’ continue whereby a lot of ‘disruption’ within the workforce was leading people to tend to reconsider study.

‘Whether it’s to re-tool or to top up their qualifications,’ Mr Roche said, ‘that’s a trend that’s consistent with enrolment patterns across the country’.

Up to $10 million dollar profit loss expected at SCU due to pandemic

But Mr Roche said the influx of domestic students wasn’t enough to help the university get back into the black financially as travel restrictions continued to prevent most international students from enrolling. 

Mr Roche said SCU was likely to post between a five and ten million-dollar deficit for the financial year ending June 2021.

‘We always said that it would be a three-to-five year process of returning back to some form of operational health,’ Mr Roche said, ‘we’re on that trajectory’.

Plan to bring back international uni students described as ‘ambitious’

The NSW government recently announced a tentative plan to help subside travel and accommodation for international students in limited numbers and stages.

Mr Roche said SCU operators were discussing the same plan but that even hoping to start halfway through 2022 could be considered ‘ambitious’.

‘The NSW government proposal is really to bring in 200 international students a fortnight,’ Mr Roche said, ‘but it’s important to know that it’s a very early stage proposal that hasn’t been fully through the different processes of national cabinets.’

Mr Roch said recent Covid 19 alerts had led to a lot of ‘concern’ around the volume of international flights into Australia as potential sources of new variants of COVID 19 were reported.

‘All universities are acutely aware of the risk associated with that,’ he said, ‘so although we’re very keen to provide opportunities to international students who need to come back in order to complete their studies, at this stage, it’s very early days, and with the latest developments, it seems to be a very long way off’.

Mr Roche said high degree students or doctoral students partway through their PhD research needed to come back to Australia to revisit their research sites for research.

‘You would probably find it’s those kinds of students who would be the first to return, he said.

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