“Over this past week we have made some difficult decisions that we understand may be of concern to both students and staff,” deputy vice-chancellor Professor Susan Elliott said in the email sent to thousands of students.
“The novel coronavirus has created an unprecedented situation where some of our community of students and staff will not make it back in time from affected areas or isolation in time for the commencement of semester one, 2020. We have made these decisions to ensure the entire Monash student and staff body is able to begin the semester together with the highest regard for community wellbeing. “
Orientation week activities across Monash have also been delayed until later in the semester.
Professor Elliott said due to the evolving nature of the situation, the university had compiled a dedicated website to inform students.
A fact sheet sent out to students on Friday said the traditional 10-day “swot vac”, or class-free study period before exams, would be shortened to three days.
Professor Elliott stressed that Monash’s chief medical officer was in ongoing discussions with state and federal health authorities.
But the Monash Student Association, the university’s student union, said the decision to shorten the end of semster study period would have serious repercussions for many students.
“Ordinarily there are nine days between the last day of teaching and the first day of exams. There are now only five,” James McDonald, the association’s president, said.
Cancelling all orientation week activities also “jeopardises the experience of tens of thousands of new and returning students,” Mr McDonald said.
“This will make starting up as a student much more difficult.”
It comes days after the university, which has a significant international student cohort, postponed almost 900 summer school exams scheduled for next week, upending the plans of 4000 students.
In total, 883 exams at six campuses have been postponed, according to a list the university has published, including five campuses in Melbourne and one in Malaysia.
The timing of a series of other exams, called summer A and B exams, also hangs in the balance, as the university is undecided about delaying them as well.
The university said it will give students at least 14 days’ notice of when exams will be rescheduled.
The university is yet to detail when it will reschedule the exams, but has said any student planning to travel overseas after next week’s aborted exam period will need to alter their travel plans to fit around its revised timetable.
The university has also shut down its Chinese campus in Suzhou until further notice, in line with advice from the Chinese government. The campus is currently on a winter break.
Face masks will be distributed on request to students who live on campus residences.
Students living on campus have been asked to limit their use of public spaces at the univesity and avoid gathering in large groups.
There are nine confirmed cases in Australia – three in Victoria, four in NSW and two in Queensland.
The vulnerability of universities was highlighted when the fourth victim in New South Wales was revealed as a student at the University of New South Wales.
With Adam Carey
Melissa Cunningham is The Age’s health reporter.
Adam Carey is Education Editor. He joined The Age in 2007 and has previously covered state politics, transport, general news, the arts and food.