Despite this, one Newcastle University student undertaking a study placement in China told the Courier: “The University has basically not told us anything at all, aside from a vague email about ‘passing on our questions to the University’ and another about how we should contact our university insurance to maybe get money back for any flights we’ve had to pay for. It was my Chinese University who told me to not come back in January or February, to stay out of the country, and that they may be postponing our semester. So we don’t even know if our semesters are cancelled, if we’re going back to China, if we’re getting any refunds. We don’t know anything about what’s going to happen. They’ve just told us to wait, that’s it."
The student later added: “Two of the students still in China were flown back on a flight the University arranged. But that was last week, after all the rest of us had already changed and paid for our changes in plans. I’ve had two emails about the coronavirus in total as far as I can recall; I’ve had more contact and concern from my coordinator in China. It’s honestly all a bit of a shambles, all the students are passing on information to each other from things we’ve heard from other people, our universities, the news or results of individual emailing, but Newcastle hasn’t even been a presence at all. Also, we all have belongings still in China with no idea how we’ll get them back. Three other universities have already cancelled their year abroad programmes.”
A spokesperson for Newcastle University said:
“We have been in regular contact with all our students who are on a year abroad in China, offering support and advice and directing them to the University’s online information which is being updated almost daily in line with the changing PHE and WHO advice.
“This is an ever evolving situation and our priority from the start has been to make sure all our staff and students are safe and they know who to contact if they need help.
“We are sorry this student feels this way and we would urge anyone who has concerns or questions to contact our International Office directly on email@example.com.”
The University has taken the precautionary decision that colleagues and students should also avoid all but essential travel to Hong Kong and Macau. This is ahead of Foreign and Commonwealth Office guidance, but takes into consideration the high risk of disruption to both business and travel at the present time.
On its website, the University states that: “You should not be undertaking any University business in China unless approved by your Faculty PVC. If, for any reason, colleagues believe they need to stay in mainland China or that travel to China is essential, they must agree this with their PVC and the Occupational Health and Safety Service.
“The University’s International Office is in contact with all students on placement in the region and staff to provide financial and logistical support to leave the country.”
In an unconventional move, the Vice-Chancellor sent an email to all University staff and students on Monday 3 amid reports of xenophobia in the city following the global coronavirus outbreak. Read our coverage of his response here.