Qin Yibo is half way through a science degree at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. But she has not been in the country since early 2020 when it closed its borders to prevent the spread of covid-19 (she was back in China at the time).
Instead the university has arranged for Ms Qin and other stranded students in China to take up residence on campuses in their own country while they continue their studies remotely. Ms Qin has thought about transferring permanently to a Chinese university, but she still plans to return to New Zealand when it eases its border controls.
Ms Qin is relatively lucky. She has enjoyed seeing parts of her country that she had not visited previously. She spent the early months of this year at a university in Heilongjiang, a north-eastern province with bitter winters. Then, for a change of scenery, she moved to a campus in Fujian in the balmy south.
Many thousands of Chinese students who had not yet enrolled at universities abroad when the pandemic began have found their plans upended by covid-related travel restrictions. Universities in the West have lived in fear that young Chinese, whose tuition fees are a lucrative source of revenue, would give up the dream of studying aboard.
There are good reasons for Western universities to be anxious. In 2019 around 700,000 Chinese headed abroad to study, more than three times the number a decade earlier. Most joined universities in English-speaking countries. Chinese students have had several reasons to reconsider their destinations. Foreign travel is difficult during a pandemic, and covid is still rife in Western countries.
China has grown more unpopular in recent years, and some Chinese people in the West have suffered racist abuse. Anti-Western sentiment has also been rising in China, sometimes stoked by ruling-party propaganda. Many Chinese chafe at Westerners who blame China for its initial cover-up of covid, or who fail to give it credit for its subsequent success in curbing the virus.
But the pandemic’s impact on Chinese demand for study abroad has not been as bad as many had predicted. Before the crisis about 370,000 Chinese were studying at American universities, where they made up about a third of foreign students. In 2020 the number of Chinese enrolled, including those studying online from abroad, fell by around 15%.
That is not the collapse that some in the industry had predicted, says Martin McFarlane of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The fall was caused almost entirely by a reduction in the number of foreign students starting new courses, which now seems to be rebounding.
The Institute of International Education, an American NGO, says that this autumn the number of foreigners who began studying at American universities for the first time was only 9% lower than in 2019 (though about 35% were taking their classes online).
In some countries, Chinese demand for tertiary education may yet falter. America is likely to remain the single most-popular destination for several more years. It is still widely regarded in China as having the largest number of great universities.
But some Chinese have been put off studying in America by the xenophobic rhetoric of American officials during Donald Trump’s presidency, which fuelled perceptions of Chinese as potential spies. Such concerns may have abated a bit since Joe Biden took over.
But surveys of Chinese considering study in America have shown that they view America’s handling of covid as the worst in the English-speaking world. Chinese students show growing interest in studying in Asia, says Simon Emmett of IDP, a multinational agency that helps universities recruit them. Asian countries are deemed to have a better record with covid.
allure [əˈlʊr] n. 诱惑力，风采
balmy [ˈbɑːmi] adj. 芬芳的;柔和的
xenophobic [ˌzenəˈfoʊbɪk] adj. 害怕老外的
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