Tens of thousands of Chinese students will have to return to Australian campuses after a sudden ban on remote studying for overseas diplomas by the Chinese Education Ministry.
On Jan. 28, the Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchange under the Education Ministry announced that from the first semester of 2023, the Center would no longer recognise overseas diploma certificates obtained through remote study.
“According to the relevant national policies, cross-border distance overseas degree certificates and higher education diplomas are not in the scope of our Center’s accreditation,” reads the Chinese announcement.
“After the outbreak of COVID-19, the Center insisted on putting the health and safety of overseas students in the first place. Students who are forced to take part or all of their courses online due to the pandemic will be granted normal accreditation for their degrees after they meet the requirements for degree awarding set by overseas universities.”
“To effectively protect the interests of students who receive overseas education and maintain the fairness of education, the Center has decided to abolish the special accreditation rules.
“Diplomas and degree certificates awarded in the Spring semester of 2023 (Autumn semester in the Southern Hemisphere) and beyond through cross-border online studying … will not be accredited,” the body said, noting that overseas face-to-face teaching has resumed in many institutions.”
Universities Say the Decision Brings Challenges, But Welcomes Economic Benefit
The announcement comes just weeks before the opening day of Australian universities, a surprise to the higher education sector, which had not prepared for the influx of Chinese students.
“Happening so close to the new academic year, there are obvious logistical issues that need to be worked through to ensure the smooth return of around 40,000 Chinese students who remain outside of Australia,” said Universities Australia CEO Catriona Jackson in a statement on Jan. 29.
Vicki Thomson, chief executive of The Group of Eight universities, which enrolls almost 75 percent of Chinese students in Australia, said the move left students in a difficult position.
“We are concerned at the bluntness of this decision, and we will seek urgent advice and clarification from the Chinese Embassy on what special circumstance provisions are available,” she said.
“Final year students who stuck with us throughout the COVID years may now need to return urgently, secure accommodation, and obtain a visa within a few weeks–an almost impossible task.”
However, the sector said the change was “a good thing” considering the economic benefits it brought.
“Education is our largest services export and generated more than $40 billion in 2019 while boosting Australia’s social fabric,” Jackson said. “Working back to this position of strength we held prior to the pandemic is in the interest of universities and our nation.”
Education Minister Jason Clare welcomed Beijing’s move, saying it’s “welcome news.”
“We’re already seeing Chinese students return to Australia with about 3,500 arriving so far this month. I know that many universities have been preparing for Chinese students to return to onshore study,” he said.
Clare did acknowledge that the Chinese regime’s decision “could pose some short-term logistical issues.”
“I’m working with universities and the Home Affairs Minister [Clare O’Neil, who issues student visas] on this.”
Chinese Vent Frustrations Online
The snap edict by the Education Ministry has sparked strong responses among Chinese students on social media.
“All kinds of details are not clear! Just post an announcement before getting off work. No specific answer has been given even till now. [You] did not consider everyone’s situation,” a user said on Chinese social media platform Weibo.
“The deadline given by the Australian side is June 30, which is in complete contradiction with this policy,” another user said in a post, citing the policy set by Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, the country’s higher education regulator in October 2022.
The user posed other questions including whether students could return to China, and what exceptions were available.
“It is too sudden and does not give students reasonable preparation time at all. This is extremely unreasonable, resulting in a series of problems such as the shortage of housing resources, the increased price of flight tickets …”
“What’s more, the school has agreed to our online course registration. Most students have already registered, and the offline places are already full. With this sudden change and no buffer time, have you considered the sky-high airfares that cost tens of thousands [yuan] and require over 30 hours of transit and the pressure of soaring rental prices?”
Some pleaded for more buffer time from the Chinese authorities.
“I hope the Dear Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchange will give us six months more time. We will definitely scram immediately,” a third user commented on the above post and @ the Center, ending with three “high five/pray” emojis, frequently used on Chinese social media as a gesture of pleading and appreciation.
The sudden decision comes as Chinese authorities extend an olive branch to the Labor government for a reset of diplomatic ties following a two-year trade war against the country’s exporters.