Did China ban online education?

Feb 4, 2023
Asian female student smile and look to you with Australian flag

According to Australian news sources, 40,000 Chinese students are being forced to rush back to Australia incurring many thousands of dollars in costs, face difficult times finding accommodation and it’s all China’s fault.

The reality is very different. From Australia’s perspective, if 40,000 Chinese students are going to suddenly arrive there, it would certainly boost the economy, it would help, rather than be a problem for the rental accommodation industry as, according to one insider, it will take up approximately one third of all the available accommodation, the same article reports that several universities have empty accommodation ready to take them, others are talking about chartering flights to help these students, this is particularly important for the state of Victoria, where foreign students are the state’s largest source of export income.

Starting with the premise that, according to many media outlets, this is a bad thing, let’s look at why they are wrong and how the Australian media has chosen, once again, to mislead the Australian public into thinking the government of China are the bad guys and doing this for all the wrong reasons.

The original story isn’t widely known about in China, it affects very few people and isn’t receiving wide attention here. The 40,000 or so people, who are normally students in Australia, have been studying online, at home in China, during the Covid Pandemic. That is the only aspect of the story that media has reported accurately.

Where it all goes wrong is in their interpretation of a Ministry of Education information release date 28th January. What the media says: China’s online study ban, Chinese students mandated to return to campus; Beijing shuts the door on online study; China’s snap ban could cause logistic nightmare and Snap Chinese edict to send students rushing back to Australian campuses is nothing like the announcement China’s Ministry made. With headlines such as these, it’s hardly a surprise that so many Australians think badly of China’s governance.

Although there are a couple of interesting Asian headlines which are less negative but equally misleading. From Thailand the reports are that: Australian students return because relations have improved and from Singapore the headlines read “Australia prepares for thousands of Chinese students as relations improve.”

It’s hard, in the morass of misinformation to find one that is close to accurate but little known “Mirage News” seems to have got it right, this outlet reports that the announcement is a good thing, although concedes, there will be some logistic issues to work through.

What makes these misleading is that this announcement wasn’t an edict, mandate or a ban, it was simply a revert back to normal policy – and, although there are some students who are inconvenienced by the timing, it’s only three weeks to the start of university and they need to arrange visa, transport and accommodation in that time frame. They are however, simply going back to what they had signed up, paid in advance for and eagerly anticipated a couple of years ago.

There is no ban on online education in China, it’s perfectly acceptable. My own Master’s Degree was issued online and has been used over many years in my visa applications without any question. According to Statista, up to 2020, 331 million students study online in China, that’s equivalent to almost the total population of the United States and the number, due to Covid probably increased but those statistics aren’t yet available.

What has changed is that Australian universities which, over the period of Covid, offered their courses online, have now ceased offering that option. These universities are either not accredited to offer online courses or, if they are, the courses selected were not accredited to be offered online. Any student who has signed up for an online course, would be totally unaffected, and probably even oblivious to this announcement.

Google translation of Ministry of Education announcement

Students who, because of a global pandemic, returned to their homes and studied online are now in a position to resume their proper places and this is recognised. Their course requires their presence in order to qualify and, although for a period of time, the Universities and Chinese authorities accepted a compromise to protect the health and safety of overseas students, that situation is no longer necessary.

What is really interesting is that, although the Chinese government has only recently made this announcement, many students have already been advised of this by their university. for example: both Melbourne and Monash University made their announcement on January 5th. ANU in Canberra, have already made their (undated) announcement too. The University of Queensland relaxed their own restrictions as early as March 2022 but continued online for the first Semester. In other words, these shock headlines are nothing more than clickbait to attract readers to their sites and criticism of China for the sake of criticising China.

Despite some media claims, there are no additional cost involved, students paid full fees for their courses and received, in some cases, online teaching. They have, if they returned home, saved many thousands of dollars in rental, accommodation, health insurance and other living expenses. These outgoings are always known costs in pursuing overseas education, they are not additional.

Furthermore, this is nothing at all to do and bears no relation to any improvements in the relationship between China and the Labor government of Australia, although there is little doubt that both parties would like to see those improvements come to fruition. This announcement is a return to a normal policy so that students can resume their normal campus life and hopefully benefit from the experience.

What Australia needs to do is welcome them, share in the economic and cultural benefits that overseas education brings to all parties. Given that overseas education is an almost $40 billion dollar business and such an important export for Australia, it might be a good idea if their “free-speaking” media are encouraged to cease and desist from criticising the governments of their international students unless that criticism is merited – in this case, it clearly is not.

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