‘Don’t worry’, China tells students rushing to overseas campuses

Special circumstances observed in snap reversal of Beijing’s stance on distance learning

January 31, 2023
2022 Oct 2,Hong Kong.Passengers wearing masks line up at the check-in counter in the Hong Kong International Airport.
Source: iStock

China’s Ministry of Education has eased its citizens’ concerns that a reimposed ban on online learning could frustrate their plans to obtain overseas degrees.

In a fresh announcement posted on the Center for Scholarly Exchange website, authorities say students will not be disadvantaged if they cannot secure visas, flights or accommodation in time to attend on-campus classes.

“Please don’t worry, you can continue to take online classes during the relevant procedures,” a translation of the document insists. It urges students to keep records of visa appointments, flight cancellations or housing applications as proof that they tried to overcome these hurdles.

Similar advice applies if students have already made arrangements to study online, and these arrangements “cannot be changed” – either because of “school regulations” or because face-to-face places are not available.

The ministry triggered outrage over the weekend when it abruptly reversed a Covid concession allowing for the local accreditation of higher education qualifications delivered online by foreign institutions.

The ruling particularly worried students enrolled in Southern Hemisphere universities, where the academic year starts soon – typically in late February, and earlier in institutions operating on trimester timetables. This gives students a few weeks to secure flights and accommodation, both of which are in short supply.

Some 40,000 Chinese people with Australian visas are in their home country, mostly higher education students. Thousands more are still thought to be awaiting visas and many have not even applied, assuming they would not be required on campus before mid-2023.

Australian education minister Jason Clare acknowledged the “challenges” confronting Chinese students. He told a Sydney press conference that education and home affairs officials had scheduled a meeting “to make sure that we’re putting in place all the measures that we can to assist with visa processing”.

He said his government had “broken the back of the visa backlog” since its election last May, with average processing times for higher education visa applications lodged overseas shortening from 40 to 14 days.

Luke Sheehy, executive director of the Australian Technology Network of universities, said a “broader coalition of parties” was needed to tackle the problem. “State government, federal government, universities, property, local government – we all need to come together and work out ways to address demand,” he said.

“We have housed this many students in the past, so hopefully there are creative ways to do it. Overall, I’m really delighted that we can bring back Chinese students after a long gap.”

Yeganeh Soltanpour, an office holder with the Council of International Students Australia, said many Chinese students had already taken steps to come to Australia after Beijing reopened its borders in early January.

“International students…pay a very large sum of money to be able to get that whole entire experience [of] the campus, the clubs, the interaction,” she told the ABC.

But she said the availability of online education had allowed some students to stay in their home countries to work or care for dependents. “Those individuals would…have to make alternate decisions now that this has been announced.”


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