The education ministry in China has warned its students to reconsider their decision to continue their studies in Australia as they prepare to reopen their universities in July, citing the threat of COVID-19 and discrimination against Asians as possible risk. This move has exacerbated an existing rift between the two countries.
In a statement from the ministry,
“The spread of the new global Covid-19 outbreaks has not been effectively controlled, and there are risks in international travel and campuses. During the pandemic, there were multiple discriminatory incidents against Asians in Australia”.
As legitimate as the plea of China may be, Australia’s government and universities have rejected the idea that their country is unsafe and in response, Australian Education Minister Dan Tehan insists the country is a “successful, multicultural society which provides a world-class education”. The minister referenced Australia’s landmark success in flattening its virus curve which translates into the country being “one of the safest countries in the world for international students to be based right now”.
Beneath safety concerns
Sparks flew after Australia supported the US in calling for an independent inquiry into the origin of the virus, which was first detected late last year in China. Although China has dismissed the investigation as politically motivated, it has engaged retaliatory measures by imposing tariffs and blocked shipments from Australia, although it has denied any of such intention.
The superpower country has similarly warned its citizens of racism against Asians in Australia. Education and tourism is touted as Australia’s third and fourth biggest exports and an enabling contributor to the country’s economy.
Statistically, students from China represent 28% more than Australia’s 750,000 international students it recorded last year. Professor Salvatore Babones at Sydney University estimates that, if this continues Australian universities will likely lose A$12 billion over the next two years once Chinese students decide again studying in the country.
Meanwhile, universities in Australia are facing enormous financial difficulties especially during this pandemic as borders have been closed and this has invariably deterred international students from making a comeback.
Contrary to Australia’s position, several governmental bodies, community groups and media outlets have “catalogued hundreds of racist attacks and abuse on Asian people in Australia since the pandemic begun”, BBC News.
On Wednesday, a coalition of Australia’s leading universities called China’s advisory “unjustified” and iterated that they have asked the Chinese Embassy in Australia for examples which were not provided.
“It is concerning that yet again, international education and particularly with China, is yet again the pawn in a political game that’s not of our making”-Chief Executive Vicki Thompson.
That notwithstanding, Australia’s universities have long been accused by researchers of not “providing better support to international students, as surveys of Chinese students in Australia have found many struggle to develop stronger social bonds with their Australian –born peers due to existing prejudice”.
Beijing on Tuesday, issued a statement saying, that students should be “cautious” on choosing to go or return to Australia.