Chinese students weigh overseas options as Covid-19 and US visa limits take toll: report

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Growth in the once-booming business of educating Chinese students in the United States has slowed dramatically as the US’ handling of the coronavirus and American visa restrictions have taken their toll, according to a report by a Beijing-based think tank.

The growth in the number of Chinese students studying in the US plunged to less than 1 per cent last year, and some parents were opting for international schools in China rather than sending their children overseas, the report said.

“Political factors will affect the trend of Chinese students going to the US,” the Centre for China and Globalisation said in a report published jointly with the Institute of Development Studies at Southwestern University of Finance and Economics.

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“The Trump administration [discriminated] against Chinese students, especially those in the tech and postgraduate sectors. It has also imposed strict restrictions on Chinese students on government sponsorship, restricting normal international education and exchanges.”

It also said: “Many universities have cut budgets because of the reduction of the number of international students, due to the spread of the epidemic.”

The assessment was part of the “Report on the Development of Chinese Students Studying Abroad 2020-2021”.

It said the number of Chinese students in the US had risen consistently over the decades, from over 60,000 in 2004 to more than 350,000 last year.

But last year’s growth of just 0.8 per cent was dramatically slower than, for example, the 29.9 per cent reported for the school year of 2009-2010 school year.

“This is directly related to the Trump administration’s restrictions targeting international students studying in the US,” according to the report.

Visa denied: US says Chinese students threaten national security

In May, then US secretary of state Mike Pompeo took aim at Chinese students and academics allegedly involved in espionage in the United States, revoking the visas of Chinese students and researchers with direct links to Chinese universities affiliated to the country’s military.

Franklin Tao, a Chinese professor at the University of Kansas Centre for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis, was charged in August with allegedly failing to disclose ties with Fuzhou University.

And in June, Shih Yichi, an adjunct professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, was convicted of supplying banned missile technology to China.

The report also cited figures from the Open Doors Report 2020, published by the Institute of International Education, pointing to a broader decline.

The institute said about 1.1 million international students were studying in the US in 2019-2020, a 1.8 per cent drop year on year.

It was the first decline registered since the 2008 financial crisis. A similar trend has been observed in Britain, with European Union students reconsidering their options in the wake of Brexit, according to the Beijing think tank.

US targets only 1 per cent of Chinese students over security: Donald Trump adviser

As of the academic year 2018-2019, the top three destinations for studying abroad were the US, Britain and China, the report said.

The report also said more Chinese students were returning to China after completing their studies overseas. In 2019, 580,003 of those graduates returned to China, an increase of 11.73 per cent from 2018.

It said the international education sector as a whole would continue to suffer a severe blow as the pandemic put the brakes on international travel.

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