Coronavirus concerns for Chinese students considering West

Interest in overseas education is dampened by issues such as cancellations, disease control and discrimination

April 30, 2020
Source: iStock

Shuttered campuses and borders, as well as xenophobic attacks on Asians, are among the many problems besetting the higher education destination countries most popular with Chinese students.

While some Chinese students and parents remain interested in Western education, they are being extra cautious given that the US, the UK and Canada are still battling rising numbers of Covid-19 infections, experts say.

According to Anna Esaki-Smith, managing director of the Education Rethink consultancy, “what’s unique about the ongoing global health crisis is the comprehensive nature of its impact on international higher education”.

She cited logistical problems such as travel bans, campus closures and course cancellations, social issues such as health and safety concerns and the possibility that in-person teaching will not resume in the US and the UK by this autumn.

“Due to their significant numbers, there is an obvious focus on how Chinese students are reacting to the ongoing health crisis, but this complex network of challenges applies to international students across the globe,” Ms Esaki-Smith added.

The Beijing Overseas Study Service Association (BOSSA), a government-supported industry group, reported that 40 per cent to 60 per cent of Chinese students have been blocked from going overseas by practical issues such as difficulties with applications and visas, according to a survey of about 100 Chinese education agencies.

About 30 per cent of the agencies surveyed said Chinese students had “experienced some form of discrimination, directly or indirectly, while currently abroad, causing prospective students to change their destinations according to their parents’ or counsellors’ discretion”.

As a result of these factors, about two-thirds of Chinese agencies forecast a decline in the number of Chinese students going abroad this year. However, the majority of students who already have long-term plans to go abroad will not change their destinations, and “the overall trend of overseas enrolment will not change”, the BOSSA report said.

A British Council survey published this month also reported hesitancy among Chinese students in terms of studying in the UK.

Ms Esaki-Smith, who recently authored a paper titled “International Student Recruitment in a Post-China World” for the journal International Higher Education, said that growth in the number of outbound students from China to traditional Western study destinations was already slowing – a trend likely to continue even after the coronavirus crisis abates. In fact, it may be “intensified by fears of discrimination in host countries and decreased financial resources due to an economic slowdown in China”, she said.

“The challenges the US had been facing as a host country before the coronavirus outbreak − perceptions of being unwelcoming, high tuition fees and a proliferation of less-expensive study-abroad options − will continue to dampen its appeal,” Ms Esaki-Smith said.

A Virtual University Fair, which is currently being held for Chinese students interested in a UK education, is testing the waters with online webinars. Two recent online events attracted more than 1,000 attendees each.

Elsa Farnesi, senior project manager at the Shanghai-based Ambright Institute of Educational and Scientific Research, the sponsor of the fair, said a variety of concerns had been voiced by students and parents.

“They are raising questions about admissions in general and about the impact of Covid-19 on 2020-21 intakes, but they are also showing concerns about fairness,” Ms Farnesi said, referring to cancellations or changes to international standardised tests. “There are also concerns about discrimination: many are wondering how universities can guarantee Chinese students’ safety.

“We can already see a significant drop in students applying for international curricula here in mainland China, so we believe that a reduction in the number of students will go beyond the 2020-21 academic year.”

joyce.lau@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Chinese considering West worry over health, red tape and xenophobia

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Reader's comments (4)

Chinas wet markets have been the source of several epidemics and any one travelling via china and from china need to be examined health wise thoroughly and the intake of students and migrants from china need to be restricted and preferably stopped totally to prevent covid like viruses spreading. All countries should close borders to china and people of all nationalities who travelled to china in the past 6 months to 1 year.
I am confused. Is this supposed to be a comment from someone working in HE?
The confusion BL is only in your mind because you were unable to read the lines and interpret properly - prospective host countries and their people are more worried about china and international students coming via or from china as spreading the virus and the real fear and not xenophobia is the reason that most host countries will close their physical doors to a variety of people depending on which countries have an open and transparent system of reporting covid cases and which countries have successfully reduced covid instance, eg Australia and nz will likely open the border to each other first. Yes the comment is from an HE educator because none of us HE educators are willing to perish hosting international students coming from covid hot spots. You cannot pull the “xenophobia” card for HE educators wanting to stay alive and healthy.
i think, more appropriately, host coutries HE educators need to be guaranteed safety from international students from covid hotspots

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