China winds back online study ban after students left scrambling to get to Australia | China

China winds back online study ban after students left scrambling to get to Australia | China

The Chinese government has reversed its fleeting ban on recognizing online degrees obtained from foreign institutions after tens of thousands of students were left to flee.

The ban, announced on Saturday, required all Chinese students enrolled to study online with overseas providers to be on campus for semester one – which was due to start in Australia in a matter of weeks.

At the time of the announcement, there were approximately 50,000 Chinese nationals with student visas for Australia but remaining abroad, of whom 8,000 had visas due to expire on 30 June.

About 5,500 Australian student visa applications were processed in the past month and 2,400 in the past two weeks.

On Sunday night, China’s Ministry of Education released a statement explaining that if students cannot get a visa in time, or cannot find a flight or accommodation, they can seek an exemption from the rule when they get their degree certified gain.

Students who had already chosen online study for the upcoming semester and could not switch to face-to-face study could also qualify for a waiver.

“After the announcement … some overseas students are very worried,” the statement said.

“Please don’t worry. You can continue to take online classes during the relevant procedures.

“It is recommended to keep the visa appointment record, the flight cancellation certificate, the reply from the accommodation agency and other relevant certification materials and submit them together when applying for certification.”

The statement said Saturday’s announcement only canceled a “special practice” during the pandemic and restored the original certification rules.

It said students would have to complete their course before applying to the education minister for an exemption, but “special circumstances” would be considered for accreditation.

Data released by Australia’s Department of Education, collected before the Chinese government’s announcement, found 47,428 Chinese students started studying in Australia in the year to November 2022.

This was a decrease of 13.3% compared to the same time in 2021.

Students from China, India, Pakistan and Iran face longer security and clearance checks when applying for visas, with waiting times sometimes reaching more than three years – particularly applicants in Tribal Areas who require departmental approval to study.

A spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs said it had recruited an additional 442 staff in visa processing roles to address a student visa backlog over Covid-19.

From July to December last year, around 217,000 foreign student visa applications were finalized – a 72.7% increase compared to the same period in 2019-20. About 167,000 were granted, most of them from China.

At the same time, the student visa processing time has reduced from an average of 40 days to 14 days.

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Education Minister Jason Clare said he was working with universities and the Home Secretary to address “short-term logistical issues” arising from the Chinese government’s decision.

He told reporters on Monday that it was “good” Chinese students were coming back, with about 3,500 arriving in January.

“I understand the Chinese government made a further statement overnight with a bit more flexibility for students returning to Australia and other nations,” he said.

“It creates challenges to get on flights, get visas, get accommodation, but … we are putting in place all the measures we can to help with visa processing.”

Phil Honeywood, the chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA), welcomed any flexibility offered for Chinese students “desperately trying to come back”.

He said the IEAA had heard it was “very difficult and expensive” for Chinese students to secure flights to Australia and find accommodation in major cities once they arrived.

Australia’s Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency requires education providers to return to at least two-thirds face-to-face learning from semester two, but there are no restrictions on online classes for semester one. So for Chinese students who learn face-to-face for semester sure, one will also be a concern.

“How many universities will be willing and able to have face-to-face teaching on campus in time?” Honeywood said.

“Providers thought they could have six months to switch back to exclusively face-to-face … there will now be a bit of a scramble to have enough academics on campus to meet expectations.”

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