Chinese students in UK ‘report increased racism and discrimination’

Researchers find overseas students from China are experiencing high levels of anxiety and insecurity in wake of pandemic

May 7, 2020
"We're all in this together" mural. Covid-19. UK
Source: Getty

Overseas students from China are experiencing racism and discrimination following the outbreak of the coronavirus, researchers in the UK and the Republic of Ireland have found, prompting warnings over potential lasting damage to internationalisation in the nations’ universities.

Academics from the Open University, Trinity College Dublin and the University of Surrey were working on a research project investigating how international students build networks with local students and the local community when the pandemic began.

The project, which has followed international students for the past eight years, recently followed the social interactions of 167 students at Surrey and 100 students at Trinity College Dublin over a period of three months from October to December 2019.

As the coronavirus spread, reports of xenophobic attacks on Asian students did too, so the team decided to interview international postgraduate students at the two universities, who they were already speaking with as part of the project, about their experiences since the outbreak. They immediately heard reports of discrimination and high levels of anxiety among the Chinese students.

“My students raised their concerns with me [when the outbreak started] and so we decided to delve into it in our project,” YingFei Héliot, one of the researchers and a lecturer in organisational behaviour at Surrey Business School, told Times Higher Education. She said it was very clear that the global pandemic had changed the experiences of Chinese students in Ireland and the UK, who “told us of being shouted and sworn at, and even chased”.

“Our findings show that international students from China are experiencing very high levels of anxiety, discrimination and insecurity living through the coronavirus period,” she said.

The researchers have spoken to 22 international students so far and found that all the Chinese students they spoke to had faced xenophobic remarks.

One Asian student told the researchers they were arguing with a flatmate on a separate issue, but were then suddenly told “you brought the virus”.

Others have faced hostility outside campus, such as local people shouting “Coronavirus, Chinese” and swearing at one Chinese student who wore a facemask. A group of female Chinese students said they were chased by local teenagers down the street, who shouted “virus, Chinese virus” at them.  

Dr Héliot said the frequency of these incidents seems to be increasing with the rising tensions around the coronavirus. She said that even as it has become more commonplace to wear facemasks in the UK, the team heard that Asian students who wore masks were still subject to comments.

She said many of the students spoken to had begun “employing a coping strategy known as self-navigating” in response to outside behaviour.

Before the pandemic, the students were proactive in engaging in social interaction and were keen to engage with local communities, Dr Héliot said. Now, some would only socialise with groups from similar cultural backgrounds, she added.

An African student told researchers about their Chinese friend’s experience of racism, who was told to “go back to your country, that kind of thing”.

“He [the Chinese student] was so sad…he went to tears…He doesn’t come out of his room. He doesn’t go out grocery shopping. Nothing,” the African student said.

The team’s ongoing research shows that many international students have decided to return to their home country, largely at the request of their parents, but also due to fear of racism and discrimination directed at them. “I have to go to China, it could be dangerous for me to stay here,” one said.

Dr Héliot said discrimination could have a “long-lasting damaging effect” on international students at UK universities and the sector must act now to combat any anti-Chinese rhetoric. “These stories will spread…we have to do something now, we need to create a psychologically safe environment for every student,” she added.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (11)

Jack Grove's comment in the editorial might hint to a source of the problem: Could it be that an industrialized tertiary education system, that needs -if not sees- international students as cash cows, is -not paradoxically at all- conducive to xenophobic behaviour? By the way, one might want to use the word racism with care. Stephan Schröder-Köhne
There have been actual physical (not just verbal) assaults on Chinese students and Chinese small businesses owing to this covid-19 outbreak. Like this: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/03/uk/coronavirus-assault-student-london-scli-intl-gbr/index.html The comments from one of the perpetrators could not make this reason for this assault any clearer - "The guy who tried to kick me then said, 'I don't want your coronavirus in my country', before swinging another sucker punch at me, which resulted in my face exploding with blood (from my nose)," wrote Mok." If this is not evidence for racism due to covid-19, I do not know what is. You would think that London, of all cities in the UK, would be more cosmopolitan... And this is espoused by the Chinese American actor John Cho in an LA Times article titled 'Coronavirus reminds Asian Americans like me that our belonging is conditional' - In good times, we promote diversity, in bad times, we do not. Hence, acceptance is conditional, get it?
A grossly impoverished attempt at painting a narrative of racism by adducing a handful of examples of what would seem like just plain impolite and rude behaviour that happens all the time between any group or people or individuals not necessarily of another family or community or nation or even race. While real racism that see people incarcerated en masses in camps for being of another religious persuasion and being forcibly re indoctrinated by the state, or Africans in china recently, or people being categorised as a lower social order and ostracized or people of other genders face while using public transport, applying for a job or shopping groceries – these are the instances that are too mundane and not enough provocative to even footnote on the canvas of these imagined instances of fabricated racism constructs. And the intent of such an approach is to try to shift the discourse and hide the fact that many students flew in knowingly to their host countries where they were pursuing education when these students clearly knew what the virus was doing in their home countries and their host countries had not locked the borders and obviously did not know the full extent of the casualties from the virus in the country of origin of some of these students. Consequently, in many countries, a majority of the covid instances has been due to people travelling from the site of origin of the virus knowingly. It is this truth that such pseudo racism narratives seek to reverse.
"Consequently, in many countries, a majority of the covid instances has been due to people travelling from the site of origin of the virus knowingly." - and the all of these are of Chinese descent? I would like to remind you that the first documented case of the import of this virus into the UK was a White British man who had got it from a conference in Singapore. Did you see a series of White British men being racially abused? Another thing - punctuation is a real thing in writing.
This article follows up earlier coverage from THE documenting physical assaults - beatings, knife attacks, pushing - against Asian students in the UK, Europe & Americas. Sadly, our first report on this issue was two months ago. Here's my story from March: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/coronavirus-sparks-rising-tide-ofxenophobia-worldwide New research, like the one in this latest story, seems to show it's not getting better.
I couldn't agree more! Actually, these pseudo narratives about racism and xenophobia against Chinese students, work for putting out of sight important questions related to the origin of this global pandemia and about the defense of freedom and democracy. Unfortunately, many of these students, not only in UK, even after finishing their courses in Western universities, remain defenders of the extreme-left Chinese regime, the most powerful totalitarian dictatorship of History, the system which persecutes with no mercy, all sort of intellectuals, journalists, physicians, lawyers and who else decide to question its dogmas provided from an unique speech and its unique political party.
I couldn't agree more! Actually, these pseudo narratives about racism and xenophobia against Chinese students, work for putting out of sight important questions related to the origin of this global pandemia and about the defense of freedom and democracy. Unfortunately, many of these students, not only in UK, even after finishing their courses in Western universities, remain defenders of the extreme-left Chinese regime, the most powerful totalitarian dictatorship of History, the system which persecutes with no mercy, all sort of intellectuals, journalists, physicians, lawyers and who else decide to question its dogmas provided from an unique speech and its unique political party.
response to deheuty Punctuation restricts the flow of thought and I shall not be held incarcerated by mere forms because the not so literate find it difficult to read. Do we punctuate when we talk? Or do we punctuate when we think? You obviously have not read Shakespeare else you might cast him worthless and I shall not doubt that you might because you appear to lack reason and facts. Read a little more of everything and you might get astonished at your own evolution.
In what ways they invade western uphold democracy and freedom by wearing a mask to go out? If they are exposed to such racism and aggression that they are afraid to go out, is it only plain impolite? We are running a similar study in the U.K. now and 26 out of 30 students interviewed had or know someone who were exposed to verbal abuse when they were walking on the street wearing masks. The survey study result will come out soon. There were several news reports through out U.K. that students were being attacked and being called 'Virus' or 'Go home!'. Is it really they are supporters of the Chinese regime or you are just prejudiced yourself?
What I learned from the comments: 1. Chinese being discriminated by other races is not racism, while Chinese discriminating other races is racism. 2. Whether you should have basic human rights depends on your political point of view, or what other people guess is your political standing. 3. If I don't like you, the racist discrimination you receive is just impoliteness.
It is really sad to know that. I guess the racism is growing not only to Chinese students but Asian students in general. People cannot distinghish the origin of the Asians, so that I have non-Chinese friends who were bullied at the streets. Also, we have to see that the racism is also against blacks. Afterall, now, the result of racism against blacks are exploding everywhere in the world because of the George Floyd's case. <a href="https://www.realgramas.com.br/" rel="follow">RealGramas</a>

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