China cancels recognition of online degrees

Beijing’s abolition of Covid-era concession expected to spur international enrolments while generating logistical migraines

一月 30, 2023
man having video conference at home
Source: iStock

China has abruptly withdrawn its Covid-era endorsement of remotely delivered tertiary education, in a move likely to galvanise international enrolments in Western countries while straining university admissions services, visa processing and flight and housing availability.

Beijing authorities have reversed a 2020 rule change that allowed for the local accreditation of degrees and higher education diplomas taught online by universities and colleges in other parts of the world.

The new arrangements, revealed in a “special announcement” posted over the weekend on the Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchange (CSCSE) website, apply from the main “autumn” semester for institutions based in the southern hemisphere and affect both new and continuing enrolments.

“Students should return to school as soon as possible,” an attached document advises.

This gives Chinese students enrolled at Australian universities between two and four weeks to relocate Down Under in time to start or resume their classes face to face.

Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia, said that while China had “never been comfortable with online learning”, educators had expected a transition period in the reversion to usual arrangements.

“Such a rapid pivot back to regulated face-to-face learning requirements will definitely create challenges for our education providers and our visa processing,” Mr Honeywood said. “Nonetheless, it will be welcomed by most stakeholders.”

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said it was a “good thing” that China’s decision would encourage students to return to Australia. But the imposition so close to the new academic year presented “obvious logistical issues”.

“We will be working closely with government and industry to ensure universities can quickly respond to this influx and facilitate the safe return of students from China as well as students from other nations,” Ms Jackson said.

According to the latest federal government statistics, as many as 40,000 of some 119,000 Chinese student visa holders were located outside Australia in mid-November. Chinese citizens account for the bulk of the 62,000 foreign higher education students based elsewhere.

Their preparedness to embrace online education surprised many, cushioning Covid’s impacts on Australian universities’ international education earnings – even boosting overseas fee income at a handful of institutions.

But diplomats warned that Beijing’s endorsement of online degrees would not last forever. The rapid reversal, barely three weeks after authorities resumed issuing visas for overseas travel, reflects the speedy dismantling of China’s pandemic regime.

Australia’s higher education regulator had acted far more temperately, giving universities until mid-2023 to meet normal rules requiring them to deliver at least two-thirds of foreign students’ degrees in face-to-face mode.

Universities now struggling to meet these two different deadlines face additional uncertainty around their enrolment numbers, with a wave of deferrals likely from Chinese students who cannot secure visas or flights.

The CSCSE announcement flags “special circumstances” consideration for students unable to travel to their host institutions “due to objective reasons” but offers no guarantees that their degrees will be recognised locally. “Our centre will complete the case evaluation of relevant diplomas and certificates based on specific situations,” it says.



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