“I feel so worried about the situation,” she said from Wuhan, which remains in indefinite lockdown.
“I’m worried about my life, about my studies. Study abroad is not cheap, right, so I’m just afraid I cannot study in Australia this year.”
With only a month until the first semester begins, about 62 per cent of Australia’s 156,675 Chinese university students, including Ms Xu, remain overseas plagued by uncertainty.
Students in China will not be allowed to return until at least February 15, and the federal government will consider extending the ban.
A group of 160 Melbourne University students have signed emails to university staff urging them to follow Monash’s lead in delaying the start of semester and extending online classes. No other Australian universities have yet delayed classes.
Mengting Chen, a post-graduate student, is also on lockdown in Wuhan.
She’s unsure whether she should pay her tuition fees for the coming year, which are due on February 14 – one day before the current travel ban ends – and will likely lose money on accommodation.
“Me and my roommate have already booked an apartment for our next semester. We have to pay the bond, and the rent for the first month, and now we can’t get back to Melbourne on time,” Ms Chen said.
Melbourne University has asked affected students to contact the university with their concerns, and Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan is working with Universities Australia to offer “maximum flexibility” for students trapped overseas.
“We’re doing everything we can to ensure they can either study online or study remotely,” he said on Tuesday.
Asked if students would receive refunds on tuition fees and universities would be covered for lost revenue, Mr Tehan cautioned: “Let’s wait and see what happens over the next fortnight, over the next month”.
The death toll from the flu-like disease has risen to 427, while 727 patients have now recovered. On Wednesday, a 13th case in Australia was confirmed.
Third-year biomedicine student Andy Thao, 20, is in three groups on WeChat, the Chinese messaging service, with thousands of students stuck in China, including one group discussing the possibility of spending 14 days in another foreign country before entering Australia.
Mr Thao was forced to miss his flight from Shanghai to Melbourne booked for February 3.
Anxious to return to his final year of studies and noticing prices for flights at the end of February already increasing, he reserved a new flight for February 16.
Yet after Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Tuesday he expects the two-week travel ban to be extended, “subject to the arc of the virus”, that flight is also in doubt.
“I just feel worried,” Mr Thao said. “I don’t know which news is right, which is wrong. I have no idea what to do next really.”
Ms Xu’s agricultural science degree includes compulsory subjects only available in semester one, so any deferral would result in a coronavirus-enforced gap year.
“I plan to study in graduate school in the middle of next year,” she said.
“But if I can’t get back for March, I’ll have to delay all those plans for one year: graduation, graduate study, then my future career would be delayed for a year.”
Michael is a reporter for The Age.