Universities are under increasing pressure due to the virus. Southern Cross University shut two campuses on Wednesday as a precautionary measure after a staff member, who had recently returned from overseas, tested positive.
In the United States, more than 100 universities, including Harvard, have asked students not to return after spring break and will run classes online.
Princeton and Ohio Universities will also run virtual lessons.
A spokeswoman for Sydney University said the institution was considering a range of options.
“This includes reviewing and testing our existing systems to ensure that online-supported learning options are available at full-scale,” the spokeswoman said.
“[We] are providing assistance to staff and students to use technologies to help deliver courses we’re currently offering online to our students that currently remain in China or in the event we need to partially or fully shut down for a period of time.”
Those include its platforms to provide course content, interaction between teacher and students, live and recorded streaming of lectures, interactive video sessions, and remotely-supervised exams.
Like many institutions, Sydney University is facing disruption and financial losses after the China travel ban left many students stranded. If they cannot arrive in Australia by March 31, they will have to defer.
Sydney University is offering financial assistance to affected students, such as “fee rebates and fee relief, hardship funding support and other support services in recognition of the disruption to their studies,” a spokeswoman said.
Sydney University’s National Tertiary Education Union branch spokesman, Kurt Iveson, said staff had been working “above and beyond” to put content online for international students stuck overseas.
A failure to renew contracts would be a “slap in the face” for their efforts. Associate Professor Iveson was also concerned about the pressures on other staff. “Workloads have already intensified and are creating significant stress and ill health across the university,” he said.
He called for the university to guarantee that any casual staff required to self-isolate, affected by a closure, or had classes cancelled at short notice, would be paid.
“This crisis shows the problems with the university’s over-reliance on casual contracts for teaching, research and administration,” he said. Union members will meet next week, and will hold rallies unless the university lifts the freeze and employs casual staff.
Sydney University said in a statement that institutions the world over had been affected by the crisis, “and we are not immune. We know these measures will create some challenges but they are aimed at ensuring we can contain the financial impact of this crisis; doing nothing would be irresponsible.”
The statement said the university was facing loses of up to $200 million, and the austerity measures meant the institution was as prepared as possible to protect its operation from ongoing risks. “That includes protecting as many of the jobs of our valuable staff members as we can.
“This includes our valued casual workforce; we’ve asked managers to look at the best way to manage all workloads during this period and beyond and anticipate the increased demand for online and flexible teaching will reduce the impact on casuals.”
Jordan Baker is Education Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald