Australia is preparing to welcome tens of thousands of students from China who will be arriving for in-person studies by February.
This is due to the Chinese government’s recent warning that it would no longer recognize overseas degrees obtained through online learning.
This edict means that if they have been studying online from China, Chinese students enrolled in universities abroad will now have to travel back to campus for their degrees to be deemed legal in China.
In a statement on Saturday, the Chinese Ministry of Education’s Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchange (CSCSE) said, “At present, the borders of major destinations for international study have reopened, and foreign (overseas) colleges and universities have fully resumed offline teaching.”
The center strongly urged students enrolled in overseas universities to return to their campuses as soon as possible.
Owing to this development, tens of thousands of Chinese nationals are expected to return to Australian campuses by February after pandemic restrictions and strained diplomatic relations led many to return home.
According to the Australian Minister for Education, Jason Clare, “This is welcome news.”
In a written statement delivered on Monday, Clare welcomed the development and pledged to work with his counterpart in the home (interior) ministry to help universities prepare for student arrivals and resolve any short-term logistical issues.
Australia’s education sector, which generated A$39 billion ($27.66 billion) in export earnings before the pandemic, has strong ties to China, with roughly 150,000 nationals enrolled in Australian universities. According to Phil Honeywood, the Chief Executive Officer at the International Education Association of Australia (an advocacy body for international education in Australia), about 40,000 Chinese students are currently enrolled in Australian universities outside Australia.
“We anticipate a lot of Chinese students will be scrambling as we speak to get on flights to Australia. However, we imagine there will be a number of deferral applications where students just won’t be able to get back in time,” said Honeywood.
Australian universities are also preparing in anticipation of mass international arrivals. The University of Sydney expects the “vast majority” of students to be on campus when classes start in late February and plans to phase out on-campus remote learning later this year.
The relaxing of educational ties between China and Australia comes weeks after Chinese officials relaxed import bans on Australian coal as both countries recently began working to improve diplomatic relations after more than two years of Chinese trade sanctions that have frozen trade in barley, coal, wine, and other goods and services.
China also recently dropped nearly all of its COVID curbs in December, leading to a surge in COVID cases and deaths as Beijing shifted focus to salvage a faltering economy.
Meanwhile, the move by China’s Ministry of Education has been met with anger from Chinese students.
“There are only 15 days left before school starts. I have no visa, no flight, nowhere to live,” said one comment on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.
“With such short notice, do you want us all sleeping on the streets?”
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