About 80,000 students study at Monash’s six Victorian campuses, including 27,000 international students.
Students were scheduled to return on March 2, but an email sent out late Friday afternoon said the return date had been pushed back to March 9 due to the “unprecedented and evolving situation”.
The first week of classes, until March 16, will then be delivered online only.
Ms Gardner, who has been Monash vice-chancellor since 2014, said the university’s senior team met last Sunday to consider their response to coronavirus.
There have been 12 confirmed cases in Australia while the death toll in China is just over 300.
“We started looking at the implications of this for our students – the problems it may cause for them in terms of them not being able to travel, being delayed in getting to Australia, having quarantine restrictions and the like,” Ms Gardner said.
“Our primary duty is the health safety and wellbeing of our students and staff.”
Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said on Saturday he would work with Universities Australia over the coming days to help students affected by the government’s ban on non-Australian citizens entering the country, including providing online studies and delaying the start of courses.
The Group of Eight, which represents Australia’s leading research universities, said in a statement on Sunday that it understood the government’s ban but “we also regret the effect this virus outbreak is having on one of the world’s leading university systems”.
All Group of Eight universities had offered international students options, including deferring, onilne study and negotiating study plans, the statement said.
Monash students’ traditional week-long “SWOTVAC”, or class-free study period before exams, will be shortened to three days, drawing criticism from the Monash Student Association.
However, Ms Gardner insisted the shortening “doesn’t delay any other part of what students do, it doesn’t delay their progression at all”.
Students living on Monash campuses have also been asked to limit their use of public spaces at the university and avoid gathering in large groups.
Victoria’s first confirmed coronavirus case was a Chinese man in his 50s. The second was a man in his 60s who dined at a Glen Waverley Chinese restaurant after returning. The third was a woman in her 40s and the fourth was a woman in her 20s.
With Melissa Cunningham
Michael is a reporter for The Age.