China is a country of “nuance and complexity” and that applies to study choices

by CLAIRE FIELD

The views of Chinese parents and students aren’t identical to their governments

International education is adapting to a new reality whereby for the first semester students will not arrive here in large numbers, where there is an ongoing tension in Australia’s relationship with China, and where there is no clarity on any “post-JobKeeper” support for the sector.

The responses to this new reality have been mixed and in some cases disappointing.

Firstly, there are some positives and these have been canvassed previously in CMM. They include some universities performing better than expected at the start of the pandemic and less than a handful of independent providers having so far closed down. The growing number of overseas study hubs being established, the growing professionalism of on-line delivery models, and a continuing focus on student welfare by some institutions are also positives.

The disappointing responses include the decision by some individuals and institutions to use the media to air stories which draw attention to the political tensions between Australia and China – as if the views of Chinese parents and students were identical to those of their government, and as if these debates have no impact on the growing racism many Asian Australians and international students have faced during COVID.

Having travelled extensively to Tier One, Two and Three cities in China, established an office there, visited a variety of universities from Tsinghua to Beijing Geely University, as well as a raft of vocational colleges, advanced manufacturing plants, and more recently leading tech companies including Tencent and NetEase – my experience of China and its people is one of a country of nuance and complexity. Institutions will succeed when they focus on the needs of their students and keep in mind that China is also in a tense geo-political relationship with each of our key international education competitors (the UK, US and Canada).

In the meantime while we engage in seemingly endless public debates about Chinese students, we run the risk of being surprised when interest in Australia as a study destination diminishes amongst students from South East Asia – see the results of the latest ‘State of Southeast Asia’ survey.

Claire Field is the host of the ‘What now? What next?’ podcast. In the next episode of the podcast (out next week) she will be discussing the state of international education with Professor Ly Tran from Deakin University.