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Logistics challenges could delay arrivals of Chinese students in Australia

Logistical challenges could delay arrivals of Chinese students to Australia, a report from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia has said, as concerns about students returning continue.

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Australian universities remain more exposed to the international student market than their Canadian and UK peers

The report noted positive developments that could signal a return of Chinese students studying in Australia. Those include a gradual thawing of relations between the Chinese government and Australia under the current Labor administration beginning late 2022, as well as the reopening of China’s economy after a change in Covid policy in December.

Additionally a change in honouring degrees earned online versus in person in late January 2023 is another potential driver for students to come and study in the country.

However, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia warned that ​​the outbreak of Covid in China and the reopening of borders has meant there are challenges in securing flights out of China.

“The chaotic reopening and virus outbreak could see some students unable to make it to Australia to commence the first semester,” the report said.

“However this could just see a larger return for the second semester and a further lift in numbers later this year. Delays in the processing of visas could also delay the return for the first semester. Other issues, particularly around the shortage of housing may also be a constraint.”

“We continue to work closely with relevant government departments to monitor the situation”

The report noted that New South Wales and Victoria receive a higher share of foreign students than the size of the economy and that rental vacancy rates are at very low levels in the major capital cities where foreign students historically have favoured.

“Between 2019 and 2022 the main shift in where students studied has been a slight fall in the share in Victoria,” the authors of the report said.

“While NSW and the ACT have picked up share, the return of foreign students could place further upward pressure on rents which are already rising. Working the other way it will add to the supply of labour. There has already been a fall in job ads in hospitality which foreign students have often favoured.”

Housing providers saw surges in demand from Chinese students following the reversal of online study recognition. While some 40,000 students are said to be holding Australian study visas in China, an increase in visa applications has not been apparent, according to the department for Home Affairs.

A report from S&P Global Ratings, an American credit rating agency, has also highlighted some of the challenges faced by Australian universities, which it said remain more exposed to the international student market than their Canadian and UK peers.

“China’s Covid-zero policy and prohibitively expensive flights have hindered the return of students from China, Australia’s most important source market,” the report from S&P Global Ratings said.

However, it added that recent moves by the federal government to expand post-study work rights and allocate more resources to processing a backlog of visas should help a rebound in 2023.

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson told The PIE News that the decision by China to revert to their pre-Covid face-to-face learning policy will see students returning to Australia over the coming weeks and months.

“It is good there’ll be a degree of flexibility for Chinese students who simply can’t return in time for the start of the semester.

“Universities have been prepared for the return of overseas students since our borders opened over 12 months ago and are in regular contact with overseas students to ensure they have the support they need.

“The government has also acknowledged the logistical issues China’s decision could bring, and we continue to work closely with relevant government departments to monitor the situation and facilitate the safe return of all students,” she added.

A spokesperson for the Australian department of Education told The PIE that the Australian government and Australia’s international education sector have welcomed China’s decision to end temporary recognition of qualifications obtained by online study.

“The number of direct flights has increased since China reopened its borders on 8 January”

“The department of Education is working across government, with states and territories, and with the international education sector to ensure the smooth transition of Chinese students back to Australia,” the spokesperson said.

“The number of direct flights from China to Australia has increased since China reopened its borders on 8 January 2023.”

Before the pandemic, international education contributed just over $40 billion to the Australian economy and supported 250,000 jobs.

China remains Australia’s leading market for international students, with 153,239 Chinese students studying at our universities in 2022 (down 11% on 2021) according to data from Australia’s Department of Education.

The country’s Department of Home Affairs has reported that it is processing student visas at an average time of 13 days.

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