Universities brace for Chinese student hit after COVID
By Lisa Visentin and Eryk Bagshaw
February 27, 2021 — 5.00am
Australia’s universities face the prospect of a prolonged Chinese student drought as reports sweep through the multi-billion dollar industry that Chinese agencies are being encouraged by local authorities not to send students to Australia.
The universities first began receiving these reports at the beginning of this week, at which point the advice not to recommend or advertise Australian universities appeared to be circulating only to agents in smaller regional cities. By Thursday, university sources confirmed some reports had expanded to include Beijing and Shanghai, China’s two largest cities.
Group of Eight chief executive Vicki Thomson said her member universities – which include the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne – had heard the reports but their veracity remained unclear as there had been no official notification from Chinese authorities.
“There is definitely something afoot. Either agents are being told not to direct students here or they are being told not to mention Australia as an option for study. But we’ve had no official notification from anybody,” Ms Thomson said.
“It is not a positive development and it is one we are certainly very concerned about”.
The pattern of unconfirmed reports mirrors other trade strikes on key Australian industries throughout 2020. Coal importers were given verbal instructions to stop importing Australian coal in December, leaving millions of tonnes of coal stranded off the coast of China. Wine importers were also discouraged from purchasing Australian wine before labelling issues and dumping claims were levelled against Australian producers. In January, China’s Ministry of Education warned some Australian universities have “insufficiently invested” in joint courses for overseas students.
Chinese students are a critical revenue source for Australian universities, with their high fees used to cross-subsidise research. In 2019, Australian universities collectively banked $10 billion in foreign student fees, with China the largest source country, comprising 37 per cent of enrolments.
Chinese Education outlets and state media have published three warnings in February, urging students to “think twice when considering studying in Australia”, citing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, “frequent racial discrimination” and “questionable education quality”.