COVID-19 response update: 12 Mar 2020

Student support & preparation continues. Travel suspension imposed.

COVID-19 response update: 12 Mar 2020

The health, safety and wellbeing of students, staff and the community remains the University of Wollongong’s paramount concern as it continues to support students impacted by COVID-19, and its associated travel restrictions, while acting to protect campus communities yet to be affected by the virus.

As of today (Thursday 12 March) there is still no confirmed case of COVID-19 at any Australian UOW campus.

The University is continuing to monitor the rapidly developing situation closely and is following all Australian Government and NSW Health requirements and advice. The University is working closely with NSW public health officials in all aspects of its response.

Assistance for impacted students

The University remains in regular contact with those international students who were due to commence or resume their studies with UOW in Australia but have been prevented by travel restrictions or self-isolation requirements, and is implementing a range of measures to assist them.

Remote delivery of courses via online platforms has been implemented wherever practicable, with technology solutions developed and deployed. Additional training has been provided for staff so that they can deliver teaching and enable student success. Options for alternative assessment methods are also being developed where feasible.

Options for late enrolment and commencement, deferrals and programs of intensive delivery for some courses have been developed in readiness for any change in travel restrictions that may allow affected students to come to Australia. Students can request a service call and receive up to date advice via https://www.uow.edu.au/student/coronavirus-faqs/

International travel moratorium

The University has announced an immediate moratorium on all international university travel by staff and students to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19. The travel moratorium took effect from yesterday and will be in force until further notice.

Staff undertaking personal international travel while on leave have been asked to closely monitor the Government’s Smart Traveller website for travel updates, including possible re-entry restrictions as information regarding travel and entry to Australia is changing often and quickly. Staff and students are being encouraged to stay informed by visiting the NSW Health website and read the UOW Staff FAQs.

University international student travel sanctioned by UOW will also cease until further notice.

For students currently abroad undertaking exchange or study abroad experiences, UOW is managing those on a case by case basis, according to the risk rating of each country and impact on the host institution.

Conference postponed

The University Global Partnership Network (UGPN) conference, which was due to be held in Wollongong from March 30 – April 1, has been postponed by the organising committee to a future date to be determined because of the risks posed by COVID-19.

The conference was to have drawn together senior academics and leaders from member institutions in the United Kingdom, United States of America, Brazil and Australia to promote innovative research collaboration and knowledge transfer.

Contingency planning

UOW continues to monitor the development of the COVID-19 closely and staff have revised contingency plans to guide decision-making and actions in the event of the outbreak escalating.

Remote working arrangements for key personnel are being developed in readiness and tested across all faculties and divisions to maximise the continuity of operations in the event of any partial or full campus closure being required, or if staff were unable to attend campus for health reasons or due to caring responsibilities as a result of school or childcare centre closures. The university is also increasing its general capacity for remote delivery of courses in case it proves necessary to suspend teaching on campus.

In order to protect staff, students and community, additional personal protective equipment supplies have been procured and are being prepared for distribution as required.

Increased communication to staff and students is helping raise awareness of good hygiene practices, infection prevention and passing on up-to-date public health information. A range of other communications have been distributed via emails, websites, printed publications and the MyUOW App, which provides staff and students with information tailored to their local UOW campus.

Events involving large gatherings are being reviewed and risks re-assessed and decisions taken on a case-by-case basis.

Support for student health and wellbeing

UOW cares deeply about the wellbeing of its students and continues to provide a range of support to students according to need, whether it is facilitating access to health care and testing services, providing suitable isolation accommodation if required to meet Australian Government and NSW Health self-isolation requirements, along with counselling and academic support as required.

The University continues to ask that the media and community members respect the privacy of students and staff when accessing these services.

As well as good hygiene practices being promoted throughout all UOW campuses, additional hand sanitiser supplies are being provided across all campuses and additional cleaning services are being arranged where required.

Consultation with staff, unions and stakeholders

University management has been consulting with faculty staff and unions regarding the impacts of COVID-19 on staff. This consultation will continue on an ongoing basis. The University does not conduct its workplace relations via the media and so will not comment publicly on the details of its consultations with staff.

The University is also engaging with commercial and retail tenants at its Wollongong, Innovation and Shoalhaven campuses to keep them informed, reinforce hygiene messages and coordinate activities and responses.

Financial impact

Autumn Session census date is 31 March, and the ability of some international students to continue their studies remotely is still being determined. Requests for late enrolments and deferrals are also still being processed. For these reasons it is impossible to accurately predict the impact of COVID-19 on student numbers, university operations or the flow-on economic impact to the broader communities UOW serves.

Previously announced cost control measures remain in place and the economic situation continues to be monitored closely.

University community pulling together

“I want to thank everyone in our university community, across all our campuses, for their work over recent weeks to provide the safest possible campus environments for students and staff,” UOW Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Wellings CBE said.

“These uncertain times can be quite stressful for all of us, but particularly for students who have moved to Wollongong to study and are isolated from their families while establishing new social support networks.

“Although we don’t yet know the full impact of COVID-19 on UOW, I am pleased to see our campus community pulling together to look after each other as we collectively confront the challenges of this disruptive outbreak,” Professor Wellings said.

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