They make up the largest body of international students around the world and this is the time of year when wealthy Chinese students enrol at U.S. and U.K. schools and universities. But now they are having doubts.
The number of Chinese applicants to the U.K.’s Tier 1 visa (a common route for wealthy students to study in the U.K.) dropped 72% in the first three months of this year.
Coronavirus restrictions explain this obvious fall. But, in theory, as lockdown measures relax this demand should pick up again. Only it isn’t, say advisers.
“I’m talking to clients in China. One of the things they’re waiting on is whether they can come [to the U.K.] in August for their children’s education,” says Rafael Steinmetz Leffa, a relationship manager at Shard Capital who deals largely with Chinese clients.
Should classes go online, or schools not open, then those children will stay in China, explains Steinmetz Leffa.
Already the University of Cambridge has said it will run all lectures online until summer 2021, and others are likely to follow. Schools in the U.K. are due to open next week for certain age groups and, by September, should be fully up and running. But still Chinese parents are hesitant.
“I think there inevitably will be a short term drop in demand,” says Felix Hamilton, head of consultancy in China for Keystone Tutors, a private tutoring company. “The Chinese families I’ve been speaking to still haven’t made a final decision whether to come back in September as they are waiting to see how it plays out here.”
“There’s definitely concern,” says Raffaele Flackett, a director of BE Education, which helps Chinese students find placements at British schools. The U.K. government and its handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been viewed negatively by many in China, he says.
“Even if schools were to all reopen tomorrow and coronavirus were to be eliminated I still think there would be a certain amount of mistrust and its aimed mainly at our government,” says Flackett.
The same is true of the U.S. where China makes up the largest volume of international students. The relaxation of lockdown measures across the country is at stark odds to the Chinese government’s handling of the crises.
And then there’s the President’s hostility. “By calling it the ‘Chinese virus’ it’s no surprise that my students are having to deal with xenophobia,” Kristen Brownell, who tutors international students at the Claremont Colleges, wrote in The Guardian.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the virus had “set off a disturbing wave of prejudice against people of Chinese and East Asian ethnicity.”
That same xenophobia has been felt by some international students at U.K. and Irish universities according to research from the Open University, Trinity College Dublin and the University of Surrey. “Their experiences are likely to have impact on their attitudes to study in the U.K.,” says YingFei Héliot, one of the researchers. “Those who might be thinking of coming to study in the U.K. can be impacted by hearing such lived experience.”
However, Sino-British or U.S. relations will be fixed with more interaction with Chinese students in schools and universities, not less. “We need to focus on prevention because when it comes to repair stage of any relationships/links that’s often require much longer time and effort,” adds Héliot. “The cost in-between this process is high.”
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