Since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) first appeared, there are already 62 countries who have imposed travel restrictions against China. Experts say that it would have lasting impact even after the virus has been contained.
Hundreds and thousands of Chinese students began the year with hopes of starting another term of their education abroad, but the COVID-19 hit them at the start of the school year. Countries around the world decided to put up travel bans to contain the spread of the disease that has already killed over 1,700 people based on official data.
One of the hardest-hit sectors is higher education.
Australia and the United States are among the countries that implemented a travel ban on flights from China, but it’s worth noting that universities in these countries rely heavily on Chinese international students. In both countries, this segment makes up more than a third of their international student population.
In Australia, there are roughly 200,000 Chinese students, but 107,000 students or 58 percent of them could not leave their home country at present. Meanwhile, the US has around 370,000 Chinese students, and official numbers are yet to reveal how many of those are affected by the travel ban.
International education is a AU$37.6 billion industry, and universities get 23.3 percent of their revenue from international students. Taking Chinese students out of the number could result in an $8 billion loss for the entire sector.
In 2018, these students contributed around US$14.9 billion to the US economy.
Other countries are also feeling the impact of COVID-19. New Zealand, where Chinese students make up 45 percent of international students, can lose more than $100 million from their own travel ban.
All three of these countries have experienced severe budget cuts in the higher education sector, thus making universities reliant on tuition paid by foreign students. COVID-19 travel restrictions have left them financially vulnerable and incited questions on emergency preparedness and management.
Aside from paying higher tuition, international students also contribute to the local economy through spending on food, clothing, services, and other businesses in the community. They bring social and cultural diversity to campuses, also benefiting local students in the process.
Continued travel restrictions pose an ongoing threat to the international student community. If these bans were to continue, students are likely to defer or cancel their enrollment altogether.
According to the Independent Tertiary Education Council of Australia (ITECA), 10 percent of international students have already cancelled their enrollments, while 24 percent have postponed.
“The sector is facing some real challenges right now as providers experience a significant decrease in student numbers,” said ITECA Chief Executive Troy Williams. Should the travel restrictions on Chinese students endure, the impact on the mid-year intake will be catastrophic for many providers.”
While the Chinese government has already agreed to relax their firewall restrictions to pave the way for online learning access, Williams noted that it has its limitations, especially for disciplines that require hands-on application such as hospitality and aviation.
Shift to Canada and the United Kingdom
Continued bans and visa approval freeze can prompt Chinese students to study in rival countries instead. While Canada and the UK are also taking caution by discouraging travel to the province of Hubei, they have not formally implemented travel restrictions. Both these nations are also part of the top study destinations for Chinese students.
To minimize or cut their losses, universities and colleges need to make an active effort in providing support to stranded Chinese students. Providing assistance that can prevent them from falling behind in their studies can show international students that they are invaluable assets to the education community.