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Australia Leaders aren't talking and trade tensions remain, but Chinese students haven't abandoned Australia … yet

21:40  04 march  2021
21:40  04 march  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Chinese people in Australia have lodged more student visa applications in the month of January this year than in January during any previous year.

While it's a positive sign for the local education industry, the volume is far from making up the shortfall in applications being lodged from overseas.

And experts say it's too soon to assess whether diplomatic and cultural tensions are affecting the Chinese appetite for Australian education.

According to the Department of Home Affairs, 1,978 Chinese nationals based in Australia lodged a student visa application in January. The previous January, 1,652 were lodged.

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Henry Sherrell, fellow at The Grattan Institute, believes the increase is a reflection of the demand from Chinese migrants currently in Australia seeking to extend their say.

"If I were in Australia right now on some form of temporary visa, and I had the capacity to get a student visa from within Australia, I'd do the same," he said.

But the modest increase is dwarfed by the reduction in visas lodged by Chinese students offshore since the pandemic began, as border closures limit the volume of new student arrivals.

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Diplomatic tensions between China and Australia have been heated for more than a year, with Australian ministers being unable to speak to their Chinese counterparts.

Chinese Ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, told the Financial Review in April, "the Chinese public is frustrated, dismayed and disappointed with what Australia is doing now".

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"I think in the long term... if the mood is going from bad to worse, people would think 'Why should we go to such a country that is not so friendly to China? The tourists may have second thoughts," he said.

"The parents of the students would also think whether this place which they found is not so friendly, even hostile, whether this is the best place to send their kids here."

It was a threat striking at two of Australia's vital sectors.

One in 20 Australian workers are in tourism. And only iron, coal and gas are worth more in exports to Australia than education.

The divisions appear to be having a social impact too. Chinese Australians are reporting a shift in sentiment against them, according to a recent Lowy Institute poll.

International student focus

The latest figures from the Department of Education suggest that while international student enrolments have slid during the pandemic, the share of Chinese students has held firm.

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There were 127,000 Chinese students enrolled in Australian universities in November 2019 — 38 per cent of the entire international cohort of 335,00.

The total for 2020 has dropped to 299,000, but the share from Chinese students has increased slightly to 39 per cent — more than 116,000.

The Department says there are grounds to be confident these numbers will hold up in 2021.

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson has witnessed enrolments fall across the sector, but China's drop is in step with the rest of the world.

"Up until the end of November 2020, international student numbers from China declined at a similar rate to those from the rest of the world."

The university census date later this month looms as an important marker, but Mr Sherrell warned it will be some time before we know whether it's the pandemic or diplomatic tensions driving migration trends.

"Broader social and economic changes due to the pandemic will mean it is almost impossible to spot and isolate the effects of diplomatic tension, with so many different things happening at the same time."

Ms Jackson said Australia remains a "very attractive destination for international students from China and around the world".

"We stand ready to welcome international students back to our campuses when it is safe to do so."

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