ANU Exchange Students Face Uncertainty Amidst COVID-19 Recall
By Helena Burke
On 16 March, ANU recalled all students studying or travelling overseas, and announced that all future international travel for University purposes would be suspended until further notice. ANU exchange students have described their difficult experiences of being quarantined, lodging insurance claims, and the alternative study options that followed.
The ANU announcement came after the Australian Government announced that a baseline global travel advice level of 3 was in place. Level 3 is the second-highest travel advice level and advises Australians to “reconsider” their need to travel . This was put in place to prevent further spread of COVID-19. In the email, ANU “strongly advise[d]” all ANU staff and students to return to Australia, or their home country.
Some exchange students have expressed frustration with the situation, and with ANU’s level of communication, responsiveness, and understanding. Three days elapsed between the announcement of the level 3 global travel advice on 13 March, and the official recall email from ANU to exchange students.
Rosie Proctor, who was on exchange at Comillas Pontifical University in Madrid, told Observer that by the time ANU announced the recall it was “almost too late to leave”. She claimed that “Between the 12th and 16th, we did not hear anything from ANU despite facing increasing uncertainty about whether it was safe to stay in Madrid.”
Proctor further explained that the 16 March email also said it was undetermined whether ANU’s travel insurance would provide coverage for return flights. “This uncertainty was not so reassuring,” Proctor stated, reporting that by that stage the cost to book or change flights was “extremely high”.
Isabel Bremner was on exchange at Trinity College Dublin, and initially thought the travel recall would permit her to remain in Ireland at her own discretion. Despite ANU’s emails, which Bremner emphasised “only ever advised us to leave”, ANU informed Bremner that if she didn’t return to Australia, she would be removed from the exchange program and would not receive any study credits for that semester. “Once I made my intentions to stay clear, they essentially gave me no choice but to leave,” stated Bremner, who has since returned to Australia.
Daniel Ray, who was on exchange at the George Washington University (GWU) in Washington D.C., received a similar response from ANU when he told the University of his intention to stay with his family in the US. Ray’s US visa required him to maintain full-time student status. Despite maintaining a full-time study load of GWU courses via remote learning, Ray says that after enquiring about remaining in the U.S. to study, ANU Global Programs “threatened my student status and thus my visa, as well as my ability to receive credit for my exchange courses”.
It is also unclear if the insurance arrangement by the University will cover costs associated with the sudden recall. ANU’s travel insurance Chubb has determined that from 2 March, COVID-19 was a “foreseen circumstance”. This means that any new paid travel arrangements related to COVID-19 made after this date will likely not be covered.
Despite this, ANU said it will provide its own financial support to affected exchange students. Students are asked to apply for the reimbursement of “reasonable” travel expenses by contacting ANU Global Programs. ANU warned that financial support relating to COVID-19 may not be given to students who chose to delay their return to Australia, or who remain in their host country.
An ANU spokesperson told Observer that academic options and support for exchange students are being provided on a “case-by-case basis”. While ANU can approve an exchange student to complete courses from their host University remotely, whether they receive study credit for these courses remains at the discretion of the student’s academic college.
Some students have found the ad-hoc, academic-college led approach challenging when integrating their exchange studies back into ANU. Ray claims that he was on hold for two hours to the College of Arts and Social Sciences last week after his emails received no response. Ray was unsure whether the Pass/Not Pass marking at his host institution would be accepted by ANU, and was uncertain of his assessment options for late enrollment into ANU courses.
Proctor has stated that while she appreciates the academic advice and wellbeing assistance offered by ANU Global Programs, she and many other exchange students are ”finding it difficult to sort out enrolments and seek clear advice”.
For exchange students enrolled in ANU-taught courses this semester, “alternative assessment options” will be offered “where possible”, an ANU spokesperson stated. The University has also announced that if any exchange students fail an ANU course during this semester, they will be allowed to retake the course with a full fee waiver. Additional intensive courses during the winter and summer sessions are also in development to help students affected by COVID-19 to graduate on time.
ANU has asserted that any exchange students who are still overseas “must return to Australia as soon as possible by commercial means”. Exchange students can enrol in some semester one courses up until the new census date (8 May) at the discretion of their ANU academic college.