The deadly Coronavirus has already wreaked havoc across the world and in particular in China where the death toll has already crossed 2000. The virus has also caused the biggest disruption to international student flows in history. China is not only one of the major sending countries in terms of students but also an increasingly popular study abroad destination. According to the 2018 data, there were around 500,000 foreign students studying in China, including large cohorts from South Korea (50,600 students in 2018), Thailand (28,600), Pakistan (28,000), India (23,200) and the US (21,000 students).
Impact on institutions
The outbreak has caused immense disruption in the international education flow and the worst hit country is Australia. There are more than 100,000 students in China who had intended to study in Australia this year. As the epidemic is spreading, it becomes impossible for these Chinese students to arrive in time for the start of the academic year. The reduced enrolments will lead to small class size and lower teaching staff particularly in those universities with highest proportions of Chinese students. According to the Federal education department data, there were more than 212,000 Chinese international students in Australia by the end of 2019.
Around 46 per cent of Chinese students are studying a postgraduate masters by coursework. Due to the epidemic, the Chinese students have been barred from entering Australia. This will result in smaller class strength and if the classes are too small, universities will have to cancel them. It doesn’t end here; this will eventually affect tourism, accommodation providers, restaurants and retailers who cater to international students. According to an estimate, Chinese students contributed a $12 billion to the Australian economy in 2019, the epidemic will impact the financial sector of the country on a large scale. The cost of the drop in enrolments in semester one may well amount to several billion dollars.
The Coronavirus outbreak has not only impacted Australia but it has created similar kind of damages in New Zealand. According to Times Higher Education, the New Zealand International Students’ Association (NZISA) has said that Chinese nationals who had already forked out exorbitant tuition fees now faced possible extra costs applying for new visas. NZISA also questioned the right of New Zealand authorities to pocket some NZ$10 million (£5 million) in application fees that had already been paid.
The epidemic has also impacted the English proficiency examinations in China as the Education Ministry has already cancelled nationwide English proficiency examinations needed to apply for foreign universities. These exams include the International English Language Testing System or IELTS, the Test of English as a Foreign Language or TOEFL, the Graduate Record Examination or GRE, and the Graduate Management Admission Test or GMAT.
Delayed semester start in China
In view of the Coronavirus outbreak, China’s Ministry of Education, in an announcement had said that the start of the spring semester has been delayed without providing a new start date. The ministry also said that institutions would reopen on “a case-by-case basis”.
Moving courses online?
To cater to the academic loss of such a large number of Chinese students, Australian universities can encourage instructor-student interchanges in virtual classrooms managed through learning management systems such as Canvas. While such initiatives seem excellent but the 157,000 international students in China still may not be able to access them. The Great Firewall of China prevents Chinese access to popular global platforms such as Google and, increasingly, to virtual private networks (VPNs) which would be able to bypass the firewall.
The initial time in a university away from home is believed to be crucial as it is this phase that helps students make friends and socialize during the various orientation activities. Research has found that international students consider the friends they make in the host country to be their replacement family. Friends provide the support system students feel they need while away from home.
International students who have been barred from entering the country or have been quarantined will be left out unsocialized impacting their mental wellbeing. The universities should take proper note of all such aftermaths and provide crucial academic advice and support to students feeling left behind in their courses. They should also make provisions of transitioning late international students to classes in the mid-semester. If not managed and communicated properly, this can impact the socialization and group-work aspects of courses.