BY DWARAK BALASUBRAMANIAN
Melbourne's higher education students are resorting to deferring their studies after universities were forced to move classes online amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
While RMIT and University of Melbourne did not cancel O-Week for their first year students, Monash University joined a host of other universities to do so as the potentially deadly virus began to take hold across the state.
Monash University first year student and Perth resident Shae White decided to defer the first semester of her Bachelor of Science until July 2020, after classes were moved online.
“I already have anxiety and was planning to see a counsellor to keep that in check. With this outbreak, I’m not sure how I’ll pull everything together,” Ms White said.
“I was looking forward to immersing myself in the university culture that everyone raves about. To have that taken away was very stressful.”
Ms White additionally felt it would be anxiety-inducing trying to communicate with unit coordinators and tutors online.
“It was already tough having to navigate online tools and not having any guidance made it harder,” she said.
Online classes have also sparked concern among engineering students, who feel the changes in delivery are impacting their study experience, which usually included hands-on labs and tutorials.
Final year RMIT engineering student Avijit Aich said he was uncertain how faculty staff will effectively teach the course when classes are only being delivered via audio. He will never see his lecturers' faces.
“This being my last semester, it’s disappointing to not get the opportunity to attend university face-to-face. It’s not going to be the same online,” Mr Aich said.
“There is a lot of group work involved and it’s not easy to pull that off with online sessions.
“I’m extremely concerned about how I’m going to manage the coursework, since my degree requires a more hands-on approach.”
University of Melbourne management student Pooja Mankhedkar travelled from India to study and said it was becoming very challenging for her to cope with the anxiety of moving to a new country, in addition to not enjoying a typical university experience.
“I’m feeling lost at this point. The idea of sitting at home, staring at a screen for hours makes me uncomfortable,” Ms Mankhedkar said.
“We pay tuition fees and come to another country for the university experience. Walking through campus, getting a coffee and chatting with friends makes you feel alive.
“But now you’re just sitting in your room and staring at a screen. I don’t think it’s worth it.”
Ms Mankhedkar said if the situation worsens or does not return to normal by next semester, she is considering flying back to India.
Universities are aware of the emotional strain students are facing because of the new social distancing measures.
When MOJO News contacted Monash University Health Services, a spokesperson said the university was trying to do everything it could to support students.
“We understand some of our students may experience feelings of distress and anxiety during this uncertain time,” the spokesperson said.
“Phone counselling sessions are open 24/7 and virtual meetings can also be requested.”
In addition to moving classes online, Monash University has also cancelled all campus events until April 30.
Students are permitted to be on campus to study at Clayton's Matheson Library, or the library at the Peninsula Campus. The Caulfield Campus library has been closed until further notice.
Four cases of COVID-19 have been detected on Monash's campuses.
The disease has so far claimed 34 Australian lives, with the global death toll now more than 64,000 people.