COVID-19 Updates

Published May 2020

The Opening Up of China

By the end of April, 14 out of the 34 provincial-level administrations in Mainland China already had students returning back to campus. Another 9 provinces returned to on-campus life shortly after the May 1st holidays. Hong Kong also announced that most of its K-12 students will start to return to school between late May and mid-June.

A number of International universities’ china campuses are sticking to their policy of “no face-to-face learning” for this semester, such as Suzhou Liverpool and Ningbo Nottingham.

China’s pandemic situation is not coming to an end either; a number of provinces and cities including Hubei and Wuhan still have community transmission cases, especially non-symptom infections, which was omitted in China’s total statistics until April 1st but now overwrites China’s early official belief that asymptomatic patients are rarely infectious. China only has 1.8% asymptomatic infection in the total confirmed case while in New York it is 1 in 5, and in certain parts of Italy it has reached 43%.

Beijing dropped the alert level from three to two and opened up domestic travel before the May 1st public holidays. Despite many people choosing not to travel, the air tickets and hotel bookings still took off within the first few hours of the announcement. Restaurant operators are pleased to accommodate more customers, they are now allowed to sit 3 people per table, an improvement from one person per table; Shanghai Disney will re-open in mid-May. Wuhan opened its airport in early April, the first cargo flights returning to normal operation in May. However, all international flights and flights to Beijing remain cancelled.

Impact on China’s Education Sector

PG and PhD Recruiting

To cope with China’s largest graduate cohort – 8.47m this year, China announced that it will approve additional quota for Master and PhD students. In December last year, 3.4 million had registered for Master entry-level exams, an 18% increase compared to the previous year. The acceptance ratio in 2019 was 4:1 (800,000+ received an offer). China has experienced a two-digit-growth for post-graduate study entry exam participants for 4 continuous years. Many undergraduate students at top tier universities have been “guaranteed” with a post-graduate study offer by their universities. It’s estimated that a total of 2.7 million students are studying towards a Master or a PhD in China at the moment. For 2020, 100,000 PhD positions have been announced, 30,000 increase from the 70,000 in 2019.

R&D Funding Cut

According to ScienceNet, many Chinese universities have been asked to “tighten up the belt” for 2020, using 75% as the baseline for their budget for the rest of the year; some projects have been put under “freeze”. The order demands a clear budget-cutting performance outcome by June 30th. This impacts not only top universities such as Zhejiang University, Tongji University, Huazhong University of S&T, but 2nd / 3rd tier universities as well.

Impact on Recruitment Agents and Language Training Providers:

China’s student recruitment agency market is estimated to have a revenue size of RMB 12 – 60 billion, depending on whether or not language training and post enrolment services are included. There were 600,000 Chinese studying abroad in 2019, in other words, for every student studying abroad, there is USD3,000 – 15,000 revenue to be earned by the agent on average. The agency industry had a big restructuring in 2017 while the Chinese government relaxed the licensing requirement, allowing the birth of many hybrid agents and studio agencies.

According to China’s language training giant New Oriental’s May 2019 White Paper (the company has also been involved in the agent field), 38% of the agents were established less than 1 year ago and 50% of agents have less than 5 years operating history. Over half of them were new to the industry.

All TOFEL, GRE, GMAT, IELTS, SAT, AP, PTE exams are cancelled, off-line training has been non-existent for months and providers may be obligated to provide tuition refunds; many students have chosen to delay their study abroad applications. Agents and training providers with high fixed costs, less diverted revenue and limited online presence have suffered more in particular. New Oriental announced its Q3 registration is only 1.6 million, a 2.2 million decrease compared to Q2 registration. Monthly data from early 2020, shows hundreds of agents applying to fold up their businesses.

Joint Programs Become More Attractive

There are two kinds of joint programs in China, the ones that can only recruit GAOKAO (national university entry exam) students and the ones that can carry on with “self-recruiting”. Although self-recruiting programs often do not offer Chinese degrees and have been seen as “less secure”, many students now see this is a better alternative to spending 6 months or a year to first start a course in China then looking for a transfer in 2021. Some expect a surge in numbers in these “non-quota” joint programs (self-recruiting joint programs)

From the Editor:

While Wuhan was under lockdown 3 months ago, anyone who predicted there would be a global pandemic sounded like an absurd maniac. At first, we were spectating a tragic story, then we became part of it. While so many lives have been impacted, many are showing meagre empathy and are willing to let them turn into cold statistics. Regardless where we are at the Bell curve, we’ve come to accept Covid-19 as part of our lives in the foreseeable future. During this time, we have observed autocratic authoritarians’ control swallow very little individual choice and expression; we have also witnessed human nature deny the reality when it is not in one’s favour—the consequence of a series of misjudgements and systematic errors in many of our democratic societies. We are all under a global siege, surrounded by an invisible virus and our own emerging bias, we have all been pushed to test our value sets, the efficiency of our own trusted systems, the resilience level of our societies. With 4 million people being infected and 260,000 deaths, a pause of the whole global economy, this is a call for us all to look back on how all this happened, what we have done well and what could be done differently, and look forward to where this will lead us for the rest of this century. 

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