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Global risk to revenue as coronavirus crisis closes borders

Travel restrictions imposed by three major international study destinations, the US, Australia and New Zealand, are sending tremors throughout the sector as institutions heavily reliant on Chinese student fee income grapple with how to deliver an education to students who cannot travel as expected.

Since the first outbreak of the virus in Wuhan, China, novel coronavirus has infected more than 20,000 people across 26 countries. Photo: Wikimedia

"This public health crisis and any future response will have wide-reaching and dramatic effects on international education"

Australia and New Zealand are significantly impacted with the start of a new academic year coinciding with the travel restrictions imposed.

“We are working around the clock to consult with clients”

While Australian regulators have touted online study as one possible short-term solution, Adrian Mutton, CEO of Sannam S4 which runs a large operation in India, told The PIE News that in the US, some of his clients are also considering more recruitment resources elsewhere as they look ahead.

“We are working around the clock to consult with clients as they deal with an unprecedented risk to usual migration patterns out of China, and no one knows when business as usual will resume,” he said.

The US travel ban, which came into effect on February 2, curtails anyone except immediate family members of US citizens and permanent residents from entering the country.

Esther D Brimmer, CEO of NAFSA, commented, “What is clear is that this public health crisis and any future response will have wide-reaching and dramatic effects on international education immediately and in the long-term.”

There are close to 370,000 Chinese students studying in the US, bringing in a value of US$14 billion.

Ravi Ammigan, associate deputy provost at UD Global, part of the University of Delaware, told The PIE that 300 of their Chinese students had experienced delays in their return to campus – and that online study was a solution being explored here too.

“Our Office for International Students and Scholars has been working closely with Student Health Services, the Dean of Students Office, and representatives from various academic departments to provide guidance to these students on how they can continue to make progress towards their academic goals while they wait to return to campus,” he said. “This includes the option of completing courses digitally when appropriate.”

“They could be looking at reappraising marketing and recruitment activities planned”

Another college commentator told The PIE that while anticipating how this could play out was difficult, they expected they – like many institutions – could be looking at reappraising marketing and recruitment activities planned, especially if trips to China will not be possible.

The decision from the US to temporarily ban Chinese visitors provoked a comparison being made with its neighbour, Canada, from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A ministry spokesperson praised Canada for not following the USA’s example, claiming the country had “inappropriately overreacted”.

However, the US isn’t the only top student destination to ban travellers from China, with New Zealand and Australian governments having imposed similar bans.

The NZ International Students’ Association said the sudden ban, which came into force on February 2 – just eight hours after it was announced – will “destroy New Zealand’s image as an international education destination”.

And in Australia’s University of Sydney, more than 4,000 international students have signed a petition to delay the start of the university semester due to the government’s announcement that foreign nationals who have travelled through China since the beginning of February will be barred from entering the country for 14 days.

President of the student representative council, Liam Donohoe, said the ban would unfairly disadvantage international students returning for the start of the year.

“This travel ban will significantly disrupt the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, who are central to student communities at the University of Sydney and beyond,” Donohoe said in a statement.

“Many of these students are losing out on learning, work, relationships, and communities, and may never return.”

Globally, institutions have also been making plans to discourage travel to China for study abroad experiences.

At Princeton University, over 100 students and staff reportedly self-quarantined as a precaution following recent visits to the country, while a statement explaining that outbound university-sponsored travel to mainland China would “not be approved for faculty, staff, and students until further notice” was posted on the university website.

Meanwhile, Boston University has reportedly postponed its study abroad program at Fudan University in Shanghai that was due to begin on February 12, “indefinitely”.

“Many Chinese agents may not open their offices to students for at least another two weeks”

BU vice president and associate provost for Global Programs, Willis Wang, explained that of the 21 undergraduate students enrolled on the program, almost all had made alternative plans, “with several students already back on campus in Boston and attending classes, some heading to our Dublin program, and a few seeking opportunities among our many direct exchange programs”.

Gavin Newton-Tanzer, president of Sunrise International based in China, shared a newsletter sent to partners with details of a webinar the company is holding on February 13.

“The fluid situation has made formulating an official response challenging for many universities,” he acknowledged.

“Travel restrictions have limited standardised testing for students and curtailed recruitment travel to China. Meanwhile, many Chinese agents may not open their offices to students for at least another two weeks, requiring a hasty migration to online counselling or missing a crucial period in the enrolment cycle.”

Also in China, marketing specialists Grok Global have been briefing their institutional partners on distance marketing options, such as virtual high school fairs, while the coronavirus curtails all travel in China.

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