Ensuring Resilience of China for International Student Mobility and Partnerships

China student growth data impact coronavirus

Coronavirus is a black swan event. The Guardian writes in the review of Taleb’s book, “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” that Black Swan “…is a catch-all phrase for ‘outliers’ or wildly unexpected events and processes: something such as 9/11, for instance…The other quality of black swans is that the events themselves have wide-ranging, society-changing effects that go far beyond their initial apparent import.”

Coronavirus is already having a wide-ranging, disruptive impact on individuals and families at multiple levels, including the tragic loss of lives. The economic impact is also likely far-reaching, at least in the immediate short term.

At the same time, we need to put the crisis in perspective and focus on the path to recovery. As the Bloomberg columnist Daniel Moss notes, “China’s economy is more consequential than in 2003 (during SARS epidemic). Its citizens travel more widely, and its companies are more intertwined in global capitalism….To limit the impact on growth, then, leaders need to think carefully about how to minimize our natural impulse to be afraid.”

Consider the case of the role of China in the international education sector. In 2017, 928,090 Chinese students were pursuing degrees overseas, according to UIS. Of this 321,625 (~35%) were in the US followed by 128,498 (~14%) in Australia. US and Australia are also the two countries imposing travel restrictions from China, resulting in the harsh logistical and financial impact of both students on universities. For example, ABC News notes, “Coronavirus travel ban hits Australian universities, schools as Chinese students stranded overseas.”

In the last several years, China has also been gaining traction as a destination for international students. In 2017, Chinese universities enrolled 178,271 students pursuing degree programs. Due to the unpredictability and complexity created by the crisis, many international students fled while others are still stuck. The New York Times reports that “As Americans and others flee Chinese universities, the crisis is severing ties that have historically brought the country closer to the rest of the world.”

The critical question is, what will it take for universities and students involved with international education to recover from this loss?

In an interview with CNN, I noted that trade-war and related political tensions were already weakening the demand from Chinese students to study in the US, and the current Coronavirus crisis is another dampener. I mentioned that

It’s kind of a very unexpected, unwanted, undesirable speed bump

The reason I call it a “speed bump” as there is resiliency in China to bounce back. While the scope of the current crisis is still unfolding, we need to strengthen the resilience and continue to find solutions for sustaining international education. For example, universities are proactively adapting to online provision as one of the ways to manage the disruption.

There are many more solutions adopted by universities and students in addressing the crisis and identifying new solutions. What are the solutions you are seeing at your university or beyond in helping students in this time of crisis? How to ensure resilience of international student mobility and education partnerships with China?

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Rahul Choudaha, Ph.D.