Canada fears China crisis will curtail student recruitment boom

Diplomatic row echoes Chinese disputes with US and Australia

January 24, 2019
Source: istock

Souring diplomatic relations between China and Canada are likely to harm student recruitment on Canadian campuses, experts have warned.

The two nations have been locked in a diplomatic feud since 1 December, when Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei, was arrested in Canada. She remains in the country pending an extradition request by the US on suspicion of breaching American sanctions on Iran.

A number of Western governments have raised concerns about Huawei, with the company facing accusations that its products could be used by China for espionage or to disrupt communications. Earlier this month, the University of Oxford said that it would not accept any new research contracts from the company.

Following Ms Meng’s arrest, Chinese authorities detained a former Canadian diplomat and a Canadian businessman, and sentenced a Canadian citizen to death for drug trafficking – moves that have been widely seen as retaliatory measures.

Last week, Canada issued a travel alert on China, warning its citizens to “exercise a high degree of caution in China due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws”. China followed suit with its own travel warning, telling its citizens to be aware of the risks of being “arbitrarily detained at the request of a third nation” in Canada.

Paul Evans, a professor in the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, said that Chinese students have been increasingly nervous about studying in the US and Australia in the wake of deteriorating diplomatic relations between China and the two countries, and Canada could soon face similar issues.

“This new era of technological competition between the US and China...is definitely going to spill over into Canada because of our integration with research labs and others in the US,” he said.

“It’s almost like a tractor beam that is pulling Canada closer to the American position on [China]...because we’re so integrated with them in other ways. We get pulled into those attitudes and some of those concerns.

“We’re just starting to figure out in this moment of chilly relations with China that a lot of Canadians are pretty nervous about China too.”

Professor Evans added that China’s new travel advice on Canada was “not dissimilar” to its advice on Australia two years ago and warned that some parents in China would take it “seriously”.

Any slowdown in recruitment from China could put a brake on soaring international student recruitment in Canada, which rose by 34 per cent between 2014 and 2017. More than one in four international students (28 per cent) in Canada in 2017 came from China, more than any other country.

Gordon Houlden, director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta, agreed that there was a risk that “some Chinese students may be deterred by the current crisis in Canada-China bilateral relations”.

“Canada is currently receiving bad publicity in the Chinese state media. This could have an effect on the willingness of Chinese students and their parents to select Canada for their overseas studies,” he said.

Professor Houlden added that there “may be some risk to academics” travelling to China to work on “sensitive issues related to political dissidents, national minorities, or Tibet and Xinjiang autonomous regions, especially if they are not working in close collaboration with a Chinese institution” but said that he “would have given the same advice on this point prior to the recent crisis in Canada-China relations”.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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