After careful negotiation, the Chinese government has agreed to relax its firewall restrictions to help stranded Chinese students study online.
More than 100,000 Chinese students have been affected by the travel ban, with most of them already paid for tuition and were set to start the school year in Australia.
In response to the coronavirus outbreak, Australia imposed a two-week travel ban to minimize the spread of the new public health emergency dubbed coronavirus disease (COVID) 2019. With the new ban, only permanent residents are allowed to return, leaving thousands of oncoming Chinese international students stuck and unable to return to their host country.
The ban would have been a huge blow to the higher education sector and serve as an $8 billion hit to the economy. Australia’s Global Reputation Taskforce, a council of university leaders and educators, discussed with education minister Dan Tehan ways to figure out how to lessen the damage. One of the solutions was to offer the students access to online course materials.
The firewalls in China, however, posed as a challenge.
“Australian government officials have been discussing with the Chinese embassy options to help students affected by travel restrictions continue their studies,” Tehan said, adding that website access along with English online services are being deemed part of the conversation.
Phil Honeywood, chair of the task force, confirmed that new pathways for online courses have been secured. Students in China can now access university portals as well as other sites needed for delivering educational content.
Honeywood lauded the Chinese government for being “very cooperative” in its support of online learning platforms to be used by Australian providers to reach out to stranded international students. He called it a “difficult situation” for those at home and unable to attend classes on campuses.
He noted, however, that not all courses will be suited to online instruction. Yet it is “a better situation than we were facing a couple of weeks ago,” according to him.
Experts continue to urge the Australian government to continue approving Chinese visas or else they would lose students to the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada. Currently, new visa approval has been frozen, which could have a negative impact on the higher education sector in general.
An on-ground presence in these locations can help students find the support they need, and universities can mitigate the risk of dramatically decreasing student enrollment and retention amid the outbreak.