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TAFE college backtracks after students told to be back in class in May

But by Wednesday afternoon the institute was backing away from its plans to reopen so soon, telling The Age it had been too optimistic.

“While there had been early hopes that many classes may have been able to return to face-to-face delivery in early May, current modelling of projected coronavirus cases in Victoria suggests this may not be possible,” chief executive Frances Coppolillo said.

“Any decision to return to large scale on-campus delivery of courses will be undertaken in association with the Victorian government and in line with relevant state and national guidelines.”

The Australian government has not released the pandemic modelling the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee has used to recommend its escalating social distancing measures.

But Victoria’s Health Minister, Jenny Mikakos, said late last month that the virus’ peak was expected to hit in May and June.

Melbourne Polytechnic students said they were reluctant to return to class next month, despite the institute’s assurances that it will enforce social distancing measures.

Liam Ward, a horticulture student at the institute’s Epping campus, said he was considering deferring for the year rather than risk exposure.

“We were already having ventilation issues with our classroom, which led to a lot of people catching the normal flu and absences not long before the corona outbreak, so I feel like a lot of us aren’t confident about the safety of the institute or that social distancing will even really work,” he said.

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Mr Ward said he was contemplating putting his studies aside and focusing on his small nursery business selling edible native plants.

“I don’t mind repeating stuff next year if I need to, as it just isn’t worth the risk in a lot of ways,” he said.

Universities in Victoria have suspended on-campus classes indefinitely in all but a handful of cases. TAFEs have been listed as an essential service but many courses have been shifted to remote learning.

Ms Coppolillo said remote learning was difficult for some of the institute’s more technical and hands-on courses, but that it was “committed to finding the best possible solutions to enable students to continue their studies”.

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