COVID-19 Updates

Published April 2020

Chinese Students Currently Staying at their Study Destination

While many countries in the world have hundreds or thousands of new cases daily, China’s official figure only has double digits of new cases daily, with almost all of them being identified at international arrivals. Chinese media estimates that 1.4 million Chinese students are stranded across the US, UK, as well as less desired regions, some of these students are still under 18. Many of these students have found they don’t have appropriate local support or medical coverage where they are. In addition to China’s strict inbound quarantine policy (up to 14 days at the designated aircraft landing city and the city where the travelers reside, at special local hotels), China has cut down 80% of its international air travel capacity, which has made some anxious parents seek out chartered flights to bring their children home. Chinese students who choose to stay overseas have often been provided with precious protective equipment by their families and friends, and lately, by the Chinese Embassies and Consulates. While some international students rely on their part-time jobs to pay their bills, most Chinese students rely on their family’s financial support from home.

A common perception amongst Chinese students and their families is that China is the safest place on earth.

Impact on Institutions

As the international traveling ban spreads around the globe, institutions and study destinations which have a high reliance on Chinese students have started accepting the hard fact: if the students are not in the country now, they are unlikely to join this semester or even this year. In New Zealand, out of the 76,000 student visas issued, 20% of students are still missing. For New Zealand’s 22 language institutes with an enrolment norm of 17,000, only 18% of the capacities are filled. In Australia, there are 189,000 Chinese students studying at the tertiary level; in early Feb, 56% of them were offshore. It’s estimated that at least 25,000 of Chinese students have managed to return to Australia via 3rd countries from February to March 20th, when the total inbound travel ban on all foreign nationals was enforced, leaving 80,000 students stranded in China. As one of the very last countries to impose a travel ban on foreign nationals, Canada left a gap for international students with visas in hand. A total of 60,000 Chinese are studying in Russia. When Russia announced its travel restrictions on Chinese nationals/flights, within 3 days over 10,000 Chinese returned to Russia, including 2,500 students who were put under strict quarantine; 80 of them were deported back to China with a fine and 5-year ban on re-entry as a result of not following quarantine guidelines. Some financial incentives and online courses have been offered to keep the students enrolled at their study destinations. Optimists are expecting a re-bounce for study abroad demands, while pessimists are predicting travel restrictions to be part of our routine life in years to come.

Inside China: Light at the End of the Tunnel?

All major international examination bodies are canceling their tests; China has also formally announced it will delay Gaokao by one month – taking place early July instead of early June. Inside China, people are shifting between the urge and fears of “returning back-to-normal”. Despite the call for “return to work”, most of the workforce is working from home or rotating their time in the office. Restaurants and shops are open, though with restricted rules and fewer customers. Cities such as Wuhan and Shanghai have started setting a date for students who are graduating this year to return to campus in early May. The timeline for the rest of the cohort is still unclear. It has been discussed that Beijing and Shanghai will remain the very last cities to re-open, more likely until the end of May. China announced its inbound travel ban on all foreign nationals on March 27th, which has made it impossible for foreign teachers to return to work. Amongst China’s 1,000+ K-12 bilingual and international programs, many claim 50% of their teaching force is made up of foreign teachers. 

China has the largest graduate cohort this year – 8.47m, 400,000 more compared to last year, and this number has been increasing consistently for two decades. At the end of 2019, China’s official unemployment rate was between 3.6-5.2%, varied across different sources from mainland China. A survey conducted by 32 universities indicated 37% of the students were considering continuing their study in China and 25% were considering studying abroad. Based on the China Youth Daily 2019 figure, 35% of students found jobs in the private sector and 28% work for state-owned enterprises. Education has become the leading industry to employ graduates for the first time in 2019. China also increased its intake quota for Ph.D., Post-doctoral and Masters students to reduce the job market pressure. In February, one of the largest Chinese recruiting firms BOSS Recruit Direct announced a 44% decrease of graduate positions on their platform compared to the same period last year; demand from small enterprises (under 100 employees) has reduced by 52%. Crushed by the total shut down due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the ailing domestic consumption and cancellation of exporting contracts have placed a double-edged sword against the Chinese economy. 

Facemasks were sourced from around the world, sent back to China, and then collected from China to dispatch around the globe. Too many lives have been lost; too many “rumors” had proven to be a reality we all have to face. Chinese students and families have witnessed the deadly silence under an autocratic regime, and the chaos under the democratic systems. Despite the impressive statistics on new cases, China’s official guidelines still require citizens to wear masks at all times when outdoors (except Hainan province, an island similar to Taiwan). The tense atmosphere remains. Many are wondering: Are we truly seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for China? Or is this just the calm before the storm?

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