Chinese education agents opt for UK over Australia post-Covid

Virus management earns no brownie points for Antipodean education, with UK ranked higher even on safety

December 15, 2020
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Australian universities and colleges risk sacrificing market share from China, as “mixed messages” about border reopenings add to the damage of an acrimonious bilateral relationship.

A survey of 60 agents in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan suggests that Australia’s popularity with students and their educational advisers is plummeting, as rivals Canada and particularly the UK build their appeal as post-pandemic education destinations.

Australia’s open and welcoming image has been undermined by the federal government’s “two steps forward, one step back” approach to border arrangements, its refusal to admit overseas students before homebound Australian citizens and its abandonment of foreigners left in dire straits by the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the country’s safety reputation has taken a knock from the Melbourne coronavirus outbreak and Beijing’s June warning about “discriminatory incidents” down under.

The report, by private education company Navitas, further analyses data from a previously reported survey of 300 agents in September to reveal stark regional differences.

While Australia and New Zealand’s careful management of the coronavirus has boosted their appeal in Southeast Asia – especially in countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia that have also contained the pandemic – their caution has worked against them in the Far East and South Asia.

Author Jon Chew said that while South Asian agents were “most bullish” about the prospects of an international education revival, particularly in the second half of next year when they anticipated student mobility levels 25 per cent higher than before the pandemic, the UK would be the main beneficiary.

This was partly because India’s huge coronavirus caseload made almost any Western country appear safe by comparison. The survey found that South Asian agents rated the UK and Canada ahead of New Zealand and well ahead of Australia on safety.

Mr Chew said that while “economic security” had always been a big motivator for South Asian students, who wanted good financial returns from their investment in overseas education, the pandemic had thrown “health security” into the mix. The UK was reaping the rewards of its efforts to process visas promptly, keep its borders open and facilitate about 100 times as many international arrivals as Australia, on top of its earlier move to restore post-study work rights.

But agents in normally safety-conscious China proved even more dismissive of Australia’s health record. Sixty-four per cent rated the UK as safe and stable and 81 per cent as open and welcome, compared with 43 and 24 per cent respectively for Australia.

Mr Chew said that the results had challenged his view that Chinese people tended to overlook political tensions when they selected study destinations. Chinese agents’ view of Australia as less desirable than New Zealand, despite the two countries’ similar border policies, suggested “there is something beyond Covid weighing on those perspectives”.

The findings continue a horror week for Australian trade, after the Communist Party-linked Global Times reported that Chinese power plants had been given unrestricted clearance to accept coal from any country “except Australia”.

While Beijing has blocked Australian products such as barley, wine and crayfish, the escalation of the trade dispute to coal – one of the few Australian exports more lucrative than international education – would be a particularly severe blow.

But a loss of Chinese students could be even more catastrophic for research-intensive institutions such as the University of Sydney and UNSW Sydney, which earned more than one-quarter of their income from Chinese tuition fees before the pandemic.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

The article rightly touches abet lightly and lacking detail on the on-going trade disputes, and now Biden is effectively POTUS elect China will ramp up it's efforts to subdue Australia. China's expansionism into the South China seas is gaining pace, now ~200Km North of Aus they are building a 'fishing' dock in PNG, spy 'trawlers' and 'protective' warships next? Darwin port and Merredin airport are now under Chinese 'commercial' control, and with so many embedded CCP members in local companies around the world accidentally revealed recently and the malign influence of Confucius Institutes in Academia it is perhaps time to stop focusing on the money and becoming a vassal state to the CCP and start thinking about state security.

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