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Is China right in asking its students to reconsider studying in Australia?

Chinese students
Students of Asian descent have reportedly faced discriminatory incidents in Australia, which some have refuted. Source: ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP

China is cautioning Chinese students to reconsider studying abroad in Australia.

In a statement, its education ministry announced on Tuesday (June 9), “The spread of the new global COVID-19 outbreak has not been effectively controlled, and there are risks in international travel and open campuses.” 

They added that there have been “multiple discriminatory incidents against Asians in Australia”.

Chinese students have been urged to do a thorough risk assessment before deciding whether or not they should study in the country.

Yet there is less proof about the dangers lurking in Australia for Chinese students, than there are of China retaliating against Australia for criticising its handling of the pandemic.

Brewing political spat

Chinese students

The escalating diplomatic row between China and Australia will affect Chinese students as well as many Australian universities. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP

Tensions between Beijing and Canberra have been simmering. The former’s warning to students is the latest in a riff that began with Australia’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.

In response, China has reacted defensively.

In early May, the Chinese ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye said Chinese consumers could boycott Australian products if Australia pursued the inquiry.

Chinese students australia

Australian beef is seen at a supermarket in Beijing on May 12, 2020. China suspended imports from four major Australian beef suppliers on May 12, just weeks after Beijing’s ambassador warned of a consumer boycott in retaliation for Canberra’s push to probe the origins of the coronavirus. Source: Greg Baker/AFP

It has suspended beef imports from Australia’s largest meat processors and imposed hefty tariffs on barley, although both sides say that is unrelated to the latest spat, said the report. Cheng also said Chinese tourists might have “second thoughts” about vacationing Down Under. 

“People would think, why should we go to such a country that is not friendly to China?” Cheng told the Australian Financial Review, as reported by Inside Higher Ed. “The parents of the students would … think whether this place which they’ve found is even hostile is the best place to send their kids.”

Australia said China remains unresponsive to its weeks-long pleas to ease tensions between the two nations.

Australian universities will feel the sting of missing Chinese students

Chinese students

Australia has long been a popular study abroad destination for Chinese students. Source: SAEED KHAN/AFP

Australia’s top universities reject claims that their campuses are unsafe for Chinese students.

“When we have statements such as this, which are from our perspective very disappointing and unjustified, it raises some level of concern,” said Group of Eight chief executive Vicki Thomson, as reported ABC News

Thompson said the Chinese embassy in Australia could not outline the incidents the Ministry of Education was referring to.

“They have been unable to provide us with that advice because they advise us there are no cases,” she said.

“So it is concerning that, yet again, international education, and particularly with China, is yet again the pawn in a political game that is not of our making.”

As of March, the Department of Education, Skills and Employment said there are 626,052 international students in Australia; this represents a 6% increase in students in the same period last year.

Chinese students make up the biggest group of international students in the country.

Modelling from the Mitchell Institute — a health and education think tank — shows that the Australian university sector could face a cumulative loss of between 10 to 19 billion Australian dollars from 2020 to 2023 due to the loss of international student fee income resulting from COVID-19

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