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Adelaide Uni student concern over continuing classes

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The University of Adelaide’s Student Representative Council has expressed concern over the institution’s decision to maintain class attendance despite the coronavirus outbreak.

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In a post to the Adelaide University Student Representative Council Facebook page yesterday, SRC president Henry Armfield argued that the university was asking students to “choose between their health and their grades” by maintaining physical attendance at classes and lectures.

Flinders University began transitioning all classes to online classes yesterday afternoon, in an effort to minimise the transmission of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

UniSA today told students it was moving all currently timetabled face-to-face teaching to online across all campuses from Monday March 23 until June 29, with tutorials to move online by March 30.

Between next Monday and March 30, all UniSA tutorial rooms will be set up to allow for social distancing, allowing for at least 1.5m between participants.

“Given the Flinders University announcement … that lectures are now online only, and some classes are to be taken via call, students at Adelaide are concerned we are not taking the appropriate precautions,” Armfield writes.

“I am calling for students to be allowed the option to not attend for the next few weeks by dropping all attendance marks until the panic has subsided and it is clear what is going on.

“Forcing students to choose between their health and their grades has already caused significant strain on some students’ mental health, which should be of utmost concern to the University.”

As at 12:30pm today, the official COVID-19 page on Adelaide University’s website advises that regular classes are going ahead as normal.

Although the university has decided to cancel all official gatherings of 500 people or more, in line with the advice of the federal government over the weekend, classes, lectures, and events with a smaller number of attendees are also intended to go ahead as planned.

The page also advises students to follow federal government advice if returning from overseas: that they must self-isolate at home for 14 days.

A University of Adelaide spokesperson told InDaily today that it was following government advice on the best responses to the coronavirus and that “at this stage, the government has not determined to close schools or universities” – but that the university stood ready to take additional precautions if necessary.

“We have been working closely with national and state health authorities, and our response to the COVID-19 situation has been shaped by their ongoing, expert advice,” the spokesperson said.

“Further decisions in line with government advice are expected to be communicated this week.

“The University also stands ready to ramp up its response if the advice from government changes.

“We are prepared to update our approach as needed.”

The spokesperson said some events – such as a scheduled two-day careers expo in Bonython Hall this week – had already been postponed in line with the government’s advice.

“The majority of lectures are recorded and can be viewed online, which means most students have the option of accessing lectures remotely and not attending in person,” the spokesperson added.

“Many students do this already, and have done so for years.

“There has been some discussion about specific practicals and tutorials in which additional precautions are being taken.

“This is being worked through on a case-by-case basis. Some of these tutorials have already been reconfigured to provide flexible, online options.”

InDaily contacted Armfield for comment today.

In an email to students and staff yesterday afternoon, Flinders University Vice Chancellor and President Colin Stirling wrote that he had asked his university’s leaders to “implement plans for the transition to delivering our teaching online to the maximum extent possible”.

“This includes delivery of all lectures using online modes from … Tuesday 17th March,” the email reads.

“Students will be advised later today to not attend lectures from tomorrow. Staff can still present lectures in the regular lecture theatres which have automatic recording for students to watch online.”

He added: “Any other form of teaching that can be delivered through online modes will also be transitioned in the coming days.”

An official Australian Department of Health document, posted on its website, advises universities to consider what mechanisms may be available to deliver learning online to people who have returned from international travel or think they may have been in close contact with a confirmed coronavirus case.

But it does not advise universities to close campuses or classes.

“University, higher education and vocational education administrators should review what mechanisms for remote learning they have in place that could be adapted to accommodate people in this circumstance keeping in mind the isolation period, provided the person remains well, is a maximum of 14 days,” it reads.

“Specific requirements are in place for people who have returned from a country or region that is at high or moderate risk for COVID-19, or think may they have been in close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus.

“Go to www.health.gov.au/covid19-travellers for the list of at-risk countries and isolation requirements.”

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