How Chinese students have been held back by New South Wales universities amid COVID-19 and Sino-Australian tensions


With limited flights and ongoing border restrictions in China, around 50% of Chinese international students in Australia are still studying abroad.

Yuxin Zhang, a Chinese international student at UNSW, is among the few people who have arrived in Australia since borders opened late last year.

The increase in the number of Chinese international students in New South Wales has defied national trends, with a 24% drop in the number of Chinese students this year.

She spent two years studying her media arts degree online in China before arriving in Australia earlier this year to complete her final year of study on campus.

While she was concerned about the safety risks from the widespread transmission of COVID-19, she thought it was worth traveling to Australia for the cultural and educational benefits.

“It was a tough decision but my friends and I decided to come because it’s all about experience,” Zhang said.

“Since I study media arts and it’s more creative than other courses, I thought it would be much better if it was done by interacting with other people and getting face-to-face feedback. face to face.”

Danica Chen, a UNSW media student, returned to China in May 2020, but returned to Australia this year so she could take production classes that could only be done face-to-face.

She said some Chinese students and their families were reluctant to return to Australia due to the spread of COVID-19.

“I found it much more fun to work with my classmates and I feel more embraced and I feel more confident speaking in class here and I’m less afraid of making mistakes,” Chen said.

A report from the New South Wales Auditor General said the Chinese market bucked the overall downward trend in international student numbers last year, with these students now accounting for more than half of enrollments at the university. foreign state in public universities.

The report warns that increased dependence on China poses significant “concentration risk” for the sector as a whole.

It showed that the University of Sydney’s revenue from Chinese international students in 2021 accounted for 87% of its total overseas enrollment revenue, or $1.18 billion. At UNSW, the only other university in New South Wales to increase international income last year, income from Chinese students accounted for about 78% of overseas income, or $548 million.

The University of Sydney said around 75% of its Chinese international students study abroad, compared to 65% of the general overseas cohort.

A spokeswoman said its increased recruitment of Chinese students in 2020 and 2021 was done by Sydney-based staff through webinars, peer-to-peer activities and large-scale phone campaigns.

“We have not reduced fees or entry requirements, but have offered a discount to international students who were unable to travel to Australia for Semester 1 2020 due to Australian Government travel restrictions,” she said.

The university also has a center in China where students can meet others in their study units and participate in extracurricular programs.

The increase in the number of Chinese international students in New South Wales has defied national trends, with a 24% drop in the number of Chinese students recorded this year.

Ongoing political tensions with China, as well as reports of interference in Australian universities, have fueled fears that students and parents are reluctant to send their children to the country.

But Chu said their analysis of Chinese social media showed border closures and the handling of COVID-19 were more of a concern for Chinese students than political tensions.

Education Minister Jason Clare said he did not believe the Chinese government had deterred students from studying in Australia.


“There are local lockdowns in China which make it difficult for Chinese students to come here if they wish. Limited flights. Still real COVID hesitation there,” he told Sky News. “So you’re not just seeing a drop in the number of Chinese students coming to Australia, but the same drop for the UK and the US.”

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