Opinion Australia's universities to feel financial impact of coronavirus outbreak

Australia’s universities to feel financial impact of coronavirus outbreak

More than 30,000 Chinese students are expected to arrive at Sydney and UNSW while another 8,000 or so at the University of Technology Sydney. The financial impact if those 40,000 students "simply don't show up" would be catastrophic

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In writing an opinion piece for The Sydney Morning Herald on January 31, Salvatore Babones enumerated the economic effects of the Wuhan coronavirus on China-dependent universities in Australia.

Being well-versed with the education system in Australia, the writer illustrated a scenario that could occur during the upcoming school year for the country’s universities.

The travel plans of millions of people have been disrupted due to the Wuhan coronavirus, and this could have a direct effect amounting to millions of dollars on Australian universities, according to Babones.

“For students threatened by a deadly and fast-spreading virus, classes may be the last thing on their minds. But university administrators are running scared,” said Babones. He gave the example of a student infection that has hit the University of New South Wales (UNSW), which resulted in the start of the school-year being postponed.

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Universities are feeling the pressure because of their dependence on the number of Chinese students enrolling in the institutions.

More than 30,000 Chinese students are expected to arrive at Sydney and UNSW while another 8,000 or so at the University of Technology Sydney. Although the health crisis could be managed through the close monitoring of classes and dormitories, the writer questioned the financial impact if those 40,000 students “simply don’t show up.”

Babones added that Chinese students account for more than 10 per cent of total revenue at many Australian universities. At the University of Sydney and UNSW alone, the number is at 20 per cent. “Revenue losses on that scale could be catastrophic,” the writer commented.

No one expected an epidemic, yet it is here, noted Babones. “The spread of coronavirus has raised the very real possibility that Chinese students will be unlikely to travel to Australia this academic year, even if universities (and Australia’s public health authorities) are happy to serve them.”

According to a report from ABC News, an approximate of 105,800 Chinese students will miss the start of classes for the first semester if the virus is not promptly contained.

As a country that has education for international students as its third-largest export, Australia is hopeful that the effects of the epidemic won’t cause long-term difficulties.

To date, the University of Sydney has delayed its enrolment deadline from February 21 to March 9, noted Babones. Other universities are soon to follow suit.

Read on the latest updates for the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak below:
Morning brief: Wuhan coronavirus update for February 5, 2020

Salvatore Babones is an associate professor at the University of Sydney, an adjunct scholar at the Centre for Independent Studies, and author of The China Student Boom and the Risks it Poses to Australian Universities, a paper published in 2019.

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