Around 200 visas are to be granted to Pakistani students to complete their international studies in China and “work has begun” on allowing Indian students to re-enter.
Although a small number, this initial phase is seen as a positive development towards the re-opening of China to international students, following on from the country’s zero-covid policy.
Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported the announcement for Pakistan students, made by the representative of the foreign affairs ministry in a meeting with delegates made up of Pakistani students whose studies were interrupted by the pandemic and who have been locked out of the country since.
The Higher Education Commission, Aviation Division and senior officers of the ministry were also present at the event which took place in Islamabad.
For some, these initials numbers are not enough. There are thought to be around 7,000 Pakistani students waiting to return to China with Pakistan ranking third in the number of international students studying in China in 2019.
Waseem, a clinical medicine student from Pakistan, studied one semester in China before his time on campus was cut short due to the pandemic. Studying online remotely from Pakistan, he often begins classes at 6am.
“I really miss that beautiful life on campus, taking offline classes and studying with friends, but online I am suffering a lot because of the time difference,” he told The PIE.
According to Iqbal, a medical student from Pakistan who was studying in Nanchang, the capital of the Jiangxi province prior to the pandemic, online teaching is creating problems surrounding the value of his degree.
“Being a medical student, I need clinical training and physical classes which are important in my degree program but due to online classes we have zero clinical training experience,” he said.
“I’m thinking day and night about going back to China and I’m very stressed sometimes.
“I’m thinking day and night about going back to China and I’m very stressed sometimes”
“I miss each and every thing about my campus life. That was the best time of my life when I was in China,” he said.
Rana Mitter, professor of the history and politics of modern China at the university of Oxford told The PIE News “Pakistan and China have a longstanding relationship dating back to the Cold War and China will be keen to make sure that their friendship remains robust,”
“Letting Pakistani students re-enter China would be a sign that Beijing is seeking to return to the pre-covid situation in which China was a key educational partner.
“However, the desire to maintain zero covid means that this policy is likely to remain cautious at least until next year” he warned.
As for Indian students, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson for China, Zhao Lijian, refuted the claim that no progress had been made for the mobility of Indian students.
“The work on the return of Indian students has in fact begun and what needs to be done now is for the Indian side to submit a name list of students who have the needs to return to China,” he said on April 29.
“China understands that the number of Indian students is so large that it takes some time for the Indian side to collect the information. All in all, China has been prepared for the return of some Indian students,” he added.
However, Lijian warned that the Covid-19 situation in China remains “severe” and “complex” and was unable to answer when prompted to give a rough timeline for entry and instead urged students to monitor existing channels, such as the embassy, for information. There are fears that Beijing could enter another lockdown, as has been the case in Shanghai.
The EU Chamber of Commerce in China has warned that many European businesses are considering pulling out of China as a result of the country’s strict lockdown measures.
“The arrangement for the return of foreign students to China needs to be made in a coordinated manner in light of the changing international epidemic situation and the characteristics of the students’ majors,” Lijian added.
“This principle applies equally to all foreign students.”
Recently, The PIE reported that a small number of Thai students have been able to enter China. Malaysia and Bangladesh previously said in 2021 they were designated as priority countries in a pilot to allow international students return to China.
Highlighting the importance of student mobility, Lijian described international students as “envoys for friendly exchanges between China and their home countries”.
“After completing their studies in China, they may return home and work as journalists or diplomats, even ambassadors to China. They represent the future of our relations,” he added.