Friday, June 26, 2020

Lack of higher education vision will 'kill' universities, says ANU vice-chancellor


A leading vice-chancellor is warning the federal government's failure to articulate a vision for higher education will destroy universities, and a lack of new investment in research will tank Australia's long-term economic forecasts.

Australian National University head Brian Schmidt's comments came as several vice-chancellors backed a potential research funding model that would allocate money to fewer, higher quality projects, and cover more of their cost.

University research has been subsidised by fee revenue from overseas students, which has plunged due to COVID-19. Education Minister Dan Tehan is consulting sector leaders and is expected to make an announcement on research by the October budget.

But Professor Schmidt said that would be too late as universities must plan for 2021 now, and important research was on the chopping block.

"There is an opportunity to fix this but we'd better fix it soon," he said. "I don't think they can do it without adding some extra money to the system. Anything budget neutral: someone is going to lose ... and lose badly.

"I really want to see a vision of what the government wants out of its university system and then we design the future around that vision, rather than just quite frankly not having that vision because it's going to kill us.

"And if we know what the government wants us to be, we will be that, even if there's a painful transition. I'd rather quit guessing, which is what I'm doing now."

If it decided the country did too much research, "that would tank Australia's long-term [economic] forecast," Professor Schmidt warned. "If they want that, model it, put it in forward estimates."

Vice-chancellors approached by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age backed moving to a model similar to that of Britain, which treats research funding as separate to teaching money, covers more of the cost, and gives priority to those with a track record of success.

Australia has a mix of research funding ranging from salaries, which allow about 40 per cent of an academic's workload to be devoted to research, to a complex grant system that only covers part of the cost. Universities have subsidised both with international student revenue.

If Parliament passes the government's shake-up of domestic student funding, designed to match the value of student and government contributions to the actual cost of teaching, universities will also lose the portion of that revenue that has been used to fund research.

Monash University vice-chancellor Margaret Gardner said universities understood funding was constrained. "We might end up funding, through the various government schemes, less projects but they have to be very high-quality projects and they have to be funded sustainably."

Professor Schmidt said a UK-style system made policy sense, "because then you don't have these distortions where we ask humanities students to pay for scientific research, which is sort of what is going to happen here [under proposals to increase arts fees and cut per-head funding for domestic STEM places]."

Paul Wellings, vice-chancellor of the University of Wollongong, which is not in the Group of Eight, said "the beauty of that model is you end up funding excellence."

But executive director of the Regional Universities Network Caroline Perkins said smaller, newer universities needed to develop their research activities, and her members only received about 3 per cent of government grants "so we don't have too much more to lose".

"We don't mind rewarding excellence," she said. "However, there must be some guarantee of funding for universities such as ours to build their overall research strength, given that we haven't got the history of research the Group of Eight have."

A $700 million transition fund announced as part of last week's overhaul is intended to shield universities from losses under the new system until 2023.

Mr Tehan acknowledged a new way of supporting research was required after the collapse of international student fee revenue and funding changes. He is establishing a small group of vice-chancellors, led by Curtin University's Deborah Terry, to lead consultation on a new model.

"We will look at all the data. I will take their views and consult within this group of vice-chancellors but more broadly, to see what we need to do," he says.

This article written by Jordan Baker and Fergus Hunter.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, June 26, 2020

Friday, June 19, 2020

Australia: University fees to be overhauled, some course costs to double as domestic student places boosted


The cost of studying humanities at university is set to double, but "job-relevant" course fees will be slashed under an overhaul of tertiary education announced by the Federal Government today. Education Minister Dan Tehan also announced an extra 39,000 university places for Australian students will be funded by 2023.

Demand for 2021 is already soaring, with the estimated 20,000 year 12 students who usually defer university now less likely to take a gap year because of travel restrictions and the poor jobs market.

The rising unemployment rate is also driving demand — in a recession, many unemployed people typically turn to universities. "We are facing the biggest employment challenge since the Great Depression," Mr Tehan said. "And the biggest impact will be felt by young Australians. They are relying on us to give them the opportunity to succeed in the jobs of the future."

Humanities students to pay as much as med students
The Government is using a carrot-and-stick approach to funnel students into the industries it believes will drive job growth.

Subjects in nursing, psychology, English, languages, teaching, agriculture, maths, science, health, environmental science and architecture will be cheaper. The Government will increase its contribution to the cost of these classes, so students can expect to pay between $3,700 and $7,700 per year. However, students enrolling to study law and commerce will have fees raised by 28 per cent. For humanities courses, fees will more than double, putting them alongside law and commerce in the highest price band of $14,500 a year.

Critics of Australian universities decry their increasingly business-oriented focus, and this policy shift will add to those concerns. Humanities staff will also worry about job security as a $45,000 arts degree will likely see some students change their plans.

The Minister says this will give the taxpayer best value for money. "Students will have a choice," Mr Tehan said. "Their degree will be cheaper if they choose to study in areas where there is expected growth in job opportunities."

Aim to increase employment rate of graduates
The Government says its priorities have been defined by pre-pandemic modeling showing 62 per cent of employment growth in the next five years will be in health care, science and technology, education and construction. The policy aims to increase the graduate employment rate of 72.2 per cent, which is lower than for vocational education, at 78 per cent.

Students studying to be doctors, dentists or vets will see no change in the cost of their degrees, which are about $11,300 a year. The Government says no current student will pay increased fees. Students enrolled in courses where costs are going up will have their fees frozen.

However, students enrolled in courses that are getting cheaper will be able to take advantage of the fee reductions from next year.

'Universities are not job factories': student union
The National Union of Students (NUS) says the lowered fees will give some students a "positive opportunity", but at the expense of hundreds of thousands of others whose degrees are not deemed "worthy".

"Universities are not job factories and tailoring fees around that premise will hurt our sector in a time where we are already facing billions of dollars lost and hundreds of staff cuts," the union said in a statement. "We need funding, not attacks on students. "Being a student should not be a debt sentence, but the Government has decided to force tomorrow's workers into a lifetime of further debt."

National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) president Alison Barnes said "gouging students" won't fix a "funding crisis". "The future of Australian research and learning demands a substantial funding package, not a cynical attempt to gouge certain cohorts of students for more money," Dr Barnes said.

"Dan Tehan has effectively told students studying humanities, law and commerce that they should fund the cost of the pandemic. This is unconscionable."

Susan Forde, from Griffith University's journalism department, was among a number of academics to attack the plan on Twitter, calling it "another blow to the humanities when we need to understand our world more than ever". But Catherine Friday, education lead at global accounting firm Ernst and Young, said the change would be good for the economy and jobs.

"As public education delivers both public and private good, there is a strong nudge here towards maximising both, and discouraging ongoing high enrolments in courses like law, where demand for lawyers isn’t growing at anywhere near the pace of the numbers of new law graduates every year," she said.

Government denies extra bailout to unis
The announcement comes amid strong but fruitless lobbying from universities for an extra bailout, after it estimated a revenue decline of between $3 billion and $4.6 billion due to international students not arriving.

According to the Education Department, 276,498 students were offered a place at universities this year, so the extra 39,000 Commonwealth-funded places is an increase of about 14 per cent.

Government funding for student places will also return to being increased in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI), ending what some universities considered a freeze on funding.

It is estimated this will cost the Government around $550 million, with some of the costs offset by reduced spending in the non-priority courses. By 2030, the Government hopes to have an extra 100,000 places.

Deluge of uni applications as students no longer taking gap years
Already battling with a pandemic, some students have had the additional worry of whether they would get a spot at university next year.

Western Sydney year 12 student Amelie Aiko Loof is nurturing her dream to become a gynaecologist in the science lab of the Our Lady of Mercy College in Parramatta. Fascinated by the human body and motivated to help women through their pregnancies, Amelie's university goal has long been locked in and while her fees will not rise, her plan to "find herself" overseas is on hold.

"I was hoping that I would study in Germany overseas, but before that obviously I would take a few months of travel, and kind of see the world. Maybe go see Europe and America as well," she said. She has now applied to study medicine at the University of Sydney.

At least a dozen of her friends are grappling with the same dilemma, and in some states university applications are already double what they would usually be.

It is the same story right across the country, where students have altered their plans and now also need to consider the Government's fee cuts or hikes. "I do think there will be more competition than usual to get into the course that people want," Ms Loof said. "That is another whole added stress to the pandemic for us this year."

By education and parenting reporter Conor Duffy

Source: ABC News, June 19, 2020

Australia: Cost of priority degrees to be slashed, some fees to soar in funding overhaul


Fees for university courses in health, teaching and science will be cut while the cost of popular humanities, law and commerce degrees will soar under sweeping changes to higher education funding aimed at producing graduates for high-priority employment areas.

The overhaul of student and government contributions to be announced on Friday will fund an extra 39,000 university places by 2023 and 100,000 by the end of the decade in response to surging demand for tertiary education.

The cost of humanities and communications courses will more than double, with a year of full-time study costing $14,500, up from $6684 this year. Fees for law and commerce will increase 28 per cent to $14,500 a year, up from $11,155. A full three-year program in these disciplines will cost students about $43,500 as the government slashes its funding contribution.

Teaching, nursing, clinical psychology, English, languages, maths and agriculture courses will cost $3700 a year, down by 46 to 62 per cent. Fees for science, health, architecture, environmental science, IT and engineering will drop 20 per cent, with a year of study costing $7700.

"To deliver cheaper degrees in areas of expected employment growth, students who choose to study more popular degrees will make a higher contribution," Education Minister Dan Tehan will say in an address to the National Press Club, according to a draft of the speech.

"A cheaper degree in an area where there's a job is a win-win for students ... It's common sense. If Australia needs more educators, more health professionals and more engineers then we should incentivise students to pursue those careers."

In anticipation of a backlash to fee increases, Mr Tehan will declare: "This does not mean fee deregulation. This does not mean $100,000 degrees."

Students facing increased costs for law, commerce and humanities "will still pay less for those degrees in Australia than they would for a similar degree in similar countries, like the USA and the UK," he will say.

The government predicts 60 per cent of students will see reduced or unchanged fees. No current students' fees will increase as the changes will be grandfathered. Fee reductions will apply to existing students.

The fees will apply at the unit or subject level, not to the overall degree, meaning students can choose cheaper electives from different disciplines.

"We are encouraging students to embrace diversity and not think about their education as a siloed degree," Mr Tehan will say.

"Students will always have the freedom to choose what they want to study – and because the government continues to offer one of the world's best student loan schemes, no student will be denied a place because they do not have the capacity to pay."

The spending reallocation will allow the government to fund hundreds of thousands of extra university places as demand increases because of economic downturn and a demographic bulge set to hit by 2023.

"To do this, we will address the misalignment between the cost of teaching a degree and the revenue that universities receive to teach it," Mr Tehan will say.

Designated student contributions in different subject areas will be rearranged into four bands based on private returns and national priorities. The government's funding contribution will be sorted into four clusters, with the lowest priority receiving $1100 and the highest priority receiving $27,000.

This article written by Fergus Hunter.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, June 19, 2020

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The curious case of Indian students who planned to study abroad


The year 2020 has been a year of uncertainties. While the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has hit economies and institutions everywhere around the world, the plans of Indian students looking to study abroad this academic year have also been thrown out of gear.

Indians are the second-largest nationality on university campuses globally, with over 750,000 of them studying in colleges across continents. If not for Covid-19, thousands would have gone abroad for admission this year, too. According to the recent Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) report, Indian Students Mobility Report 2020, the pandemic has affected the decisions of 48.46 per cent of Indian students aspiring to study abroad in 2020.

Even as the new academic year, to begin in September, is fast-approaching, the students have been left in the lurch. Their concerns are wide-ranging — from high fees without a rounded campus experience, to a decline in or loss of income for parents who would funded their education, health and well-being, and a growing protectionism in the US and other countries jeopardising post-education employment prospects.

For their part, universities are also deciding while keeping in mind the immediate ambiguities around international travel, status of student visas, lockdowns in different cities, and education delivery models. But, as with most sectors right now, there seems to be no clear path ahead.

Universities formulating policies autonomously

As regards the academic year ahead, every university has a different response to the pandemic. In the UK, University of Cambridge has decided to deliver all classes exclusively online until the summer of 2021. In Canada, University of British Columbia and McGill University have decided to keep classes online when the new academic year begins.

In the US, Harvard University has offered students the option to defer their admissions. Those like University of Virginia's Darden School of Business are planning to begin the academic year in August but allow international students to enrol until January, to accommodate visa applications. Some others are still in the process of understanding and devising ways to have students on campus and offer “blended classes” — both live and online sessions.

In an emailed response to queries from Business Standard, the United States-India Educational Foundation (USEIF) says there are more than 4,700 accredited universities and colleges for higher education in the US. Each of these formulates its policies autonomously, keeping in mind the welfare, health and safety of students and the academic community. "Universities are exploring a range of possibilities and instructional paradigms to assist students at this time.”

Janaka Pushpanathan, British Council’s director for South India, explains that universities in the UK are doing scenario planning and looking to use high-quality platforms while maintaining the quality of teaching, engagement and interaction. “The whole idea of face-to-face teaching is interactivity. Now, thanks to technology, there is a huge scope to create and simulate similar environments online, and then resume face-to-face teaching sometime later,” she says.

However, not all students are convinced. A media professional accepted into a postgraduate journalism programme in the UK is unsure about deferred admissions as the way forward. Concerned about healthcare aspects and a rounded campus experience, she emphasises that the experience of studying abroad is not about online lectures. “This is not the best time to go abroad in any situation. Taking a break from work and studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and I don’t want to dilute it. I may re-apply in two or three years, when things start getting back to normal,” she says.

Academic choices mostly based on employment prospects

There are several reasons why Indian students choose universities abroad, but the primary incentives are the advantage that one gets in post-study work visas and employment opportunities.

According to Unesco, in 2017 there were 5.3 million internationally mobile students. China and India were the top two countries of their origin, and the US, Australia, and the UK the top destinations. In 2019, the number of Indians studying in the US crossed 202,014, or 18 per cent of all international students there. In Australia, 15 per cent of all international students were Indians. They were outnumbered only by the Chinese. In the UK (in 2018) Indians, at 19,750, were again the second-largest nationality among international students. In Canada, the largest number of international students on campuses was that of Indians, who accounted for 34 per cent of the total 642,000.

A survey by QS reveals that a majority of Indians prefer to study STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects abroad, with 41 per cent of them choosing business & management, and 33 per cent engineering and technology. This choice is directly linked to employability abroad. It is easier to get jobs and work permits through these disciplines than with non-STEM subjects. In the US alone, 90 per cent of H-1B visa requests in 2011 were for jobs that required high-level STEM knowledge.

The Indian Students Mobility Report 2020 by QS also highlights the fact that 47.38 per cent of students in STEM fields have changed their plans to study abroad because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Among non-STEM students, this figure stands at 51.59 per cent.

Undergraduate concerns: Wasted year, no fallback

High cut-offs, competitive exams, and lack of specialised academic streams in India push many high-school students to apply to universities abroad for their undergraduate studies. For them, the present uncertainty does not match up to the fear of wasting an academic year, or not having something concrete to fall back on.

“My friends and I have got into colleges we really wanted to join, and we are willing to take any risk,” says a student whose father works in a multinational corporation and has decided to take a transfer to the US while she applied early to University of Texas, Austin, to study biochemistry. Once accepted, she did not apply elsewhere.

Earlier, her parents, who are funding her education, had different cost calculations. But Covid-19 has impacted their transfer to the US, and the tuition fee, converted into rupees, has strained their finances. Despite this, she says: "Neither my parents nor I want a wasted year at home, so we will manage.” The university has assured her that classes will commence, with blended teaching. She has decided to enrol, and is hopeful that things will return to normal in the future.

With concerns about health and safety, other students Business Standard spoke to are looking to Indian private universities as a fallback, should they not be able to go abroad this year. According to Ali Imran, vice-president, external engagement, Ashoka University, in the recently completed application round, the university has received the highest number of applications since 2014. “While this could be because of increased awareness about Ashoka University, there is a fair chance that students who would have otherwise gone abroad are also applying,” he says.

Many private universities, including Ashoka, accept Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and American College Testing (ACT) results, necessary for undergraduate admission in the US. They also have an internal aptitude test, so students do not have to wait for their board exam results to be considered. “Because of the pandemic, there is more interest in staying back, as parents and students are not sure of the value in going abroad right now,” Imran adds.

The US and work visa: OPT and H-1B

The US is the first choice for Indians planning to study abroad. When it comes to employment and work visa in the US, the two programmes that impact Indian students are the Optional Practical Training programme (OPT) and the H-1B Visa. The OPT programme is considered a direct path for international students to gain work experience, as it allows them to work for a year in the US after graduation (or three for STEM disciplines).

According to a PEW research finding, Indians were the largest group of foreign students who studied and utilised the OPT programme between 2004 and 2016, accounting for 30 per cent (441,400) of total. The OPT programme also allows employers to gauge a foreign student before they sponsor an expensive H-1B temporary skilled worker visa.

In 2019, according to the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), 132,967 H-1B Petitions for Initial (New) Employment H-1B visas were approved, and 256,356 H-1B Petitions for Continuing Employment were approved. External Affairs Minister S Jaishakar had informed Parliament in 2019 that Indian nationals had received between 67 per cent to 72 per cent of all H-1B visas issued by the US in the five previous financial years.

However, the overall number of denials of H-1B visas has increased under the Donald Trump administration. According to an analysis of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data by NFAP, the denial rates for H-1B for initial employment in the US rose from 6 per cent in 2015, to 21 per cent in 2019. The denial rate for continuing employment rose from 3 per cent in 2015 to 12 per cent in 2018 and 2019.

The analysis highlights that new H-1B petitions (initial employment) for top-7 Indian-based companies declined by 64 per cent between 2015 and 2019. The companies (TCS, Infosys, Wipro, HCL America, Larsen & Toubro, Tech Mahindra and Mindtree) had only 5,428 H-1B petitions for initial employment approved in FY19, which was 6 per cent of the 85,000 petitions. The decline is not just because of H-1B denials, but also due to the choice by companies to build up their domestic workforce in the US, and rely less on visas.

The future may be getting more uncertain because of the pandemic. On April 22, 2020, US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation suspending the entry of certain migrants who present a risk to the US labour market during the economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis. This order triggered a review of the non-immigrant visa programmes, including the OPT and H-1B visas. Last month, Republican senators wrote to the President, urging him to suspend the issuance of new guest worker visas, which include H-1B visas and the OPT programme, until unemployment figures in the US returned to normal levels.

The changed situation in the UK since last year

The situation in the UK with respect to students has changed since last year. Over 57,000 Indians were granted Tier-II skilled work visas in 2019, which accounts for over 50 per cent of the total skilled work visa granted globally. According to UK Home Office statistics, there had been a 136 per cent jump in the number of student visas issued to Indians in the year ended March 2020, compared with that a year earlier.

British Council’s Pushpanathan says: "The United Kingdom had previously seen a drop in international enrolment because of restrictions imposed on the post-study work visa. But this year, the universities were expecting sharper growth in enrolments, with the introduction of the Graduate immigration route, which offers students the option of up to two years of post-study work in the UK, and which holds for 2021."

She points to a recent survey of international students conducted by the British Council in April which revealed that there was still interest among students to go to the UK — with 22 per cent of the respondents planning to apply for this academic year. The survey further revealed that while 29 per cent who applied were likely to cancel their plans because of Covid-19, 43 percent were not.

However, the survey also highlighted that the main concerns among Indian students were health and safety. While 67 per cent respondents said health & well-being was their main worry, 63 per cent chose personal safety, and 57 per cent cited financial constraints.

To go or not to go — funds will be a decider

A volatility in the job market and uncertainty with work visas has exacerbated the worries of Indian students who accepted for admission to universities abroad. Many are recalibrating their thoughts on whether it makes sense to take heavy student loans or to dip into personal savings.

What should students do in this situation? Vibha Kagzi, founder and chief executive of ReachIvy.com, a study-abroad counselling company, says students should enrol. “Given that global economies have slowed down and unemployment is rampant, there will be minimal job creation and no pay hikes or promotions this year. Therefore, it is an ideal time to go back to school and earn a degree. By the time a student graduates, the job market will resume normalcy and take in fresh candidates.”

However, Sahil Anand (name changed), who was accepted into a top management school in the US for an MBA, has decided to defer. “We don’t know what will happen next. When will international travel open up? What happens to summer internship placements, and post-study work visa, which was a big incentive for studying management abroad?” He had planned on taking a student loan in the hope of landing a high-paying post-study job. The insecurity over post-study visa changes, and employment opportunities have made him reconsider.

Under the Reserve Bank of India’s Liberalised Remittance Scheme (LRS) education remittances (money going abroad for tuition fees only) were increasing in the past. In 2018-2019, education remittances were 25.9 per cent of the all outward remittances, (worth $13.8 billion). This increased to 26.9 per cent of the total (worth $17.4 billion) from April 2019 to February 2020.

However, the past three months, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a sharp drop in remittances for studying abroad. These fell from $510 million in January 2020 to $497 million in February, $312.68 million in March, and $78.76 million in April 2020. The remittances for April last year had been $252.84 million, and for April 2018 $115.68 million.

While there are multiple reasons explaining the decline, given the situation across the world in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the double-digit figure for April 2020 reveals that money going out of India towards higher education might not be the same this year. Nor would the number of students on international campuses. Nobody knows what the future holds, and each student accepted into universities abroad will have to make their choices while keeping global realities and long-term future implications in mind.

This article written by Sarah Farooqui.

Source: Business Standard, June 18, 2020

Friday, June 12, 2020

Top 100 Indian universities to start online courses: UGC Chairman


University Grant Commission (UGC) Chairman Prof D P Singh said that top 100 universities of the country will be permitted to automatically start online courses under the 'PM e-VIDYA' programme as part of self-reliant India campaign.

In an exclusive interview with ANI, the UGC chairman told that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has announced e-Vidya programme to promote online education.

"We will soon bring out an integrated version of open and distance learning and online regulation after the approval of the Ministry of Human Resources and Development (MHRD). Under Atmanirbhar Bharat, top 100 Universities according to the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) ranking, will run online classes without prior approval of UGC for 20-21 session," he said.

"Under this PM e-Vidya programme, we will have more online universities and it will strengthen online education in the country," he added.

The government is expanding e-learning in higher education - by liberalising open, distance and online education regulatory framework.

"Top 100 universities will start online courses. Also, the online component in conventional Universities and ODL programmes will also be raised from the present 20 per cent to 40 per cent. This will provide enhanced learning opportunities to nearly 7 crore students across different colleges and Universities," read an MHRD release dated May 18.

Focusing on education in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic on May 17, Sitharaman has announced to launch a comprehensive initiative called PM e-VIDYA.

This programme will enable multi-mode access to education and includes DIKSHA (one nation-one digital platform), which will now become the nation's digital infrastructure for providing quality e-content in school education for all the states/UTs.

According to an official release, under this programme, a TV (one class-one channel) where one dedicated channel per grade for each of the classes 1 to 12 will provide access to quality educational material.

The government said that this programme will benefit nearly 25 crore school-going children across the country.

Source: The Times of India (Online Edition), June 12, 2020

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Chinese international students defend Australia as a 'safe' educational destination


Chinese international students have defended Australia as a "safe" destination for study, despite a travel warning issued by the Chinese Government urging students to reconsider.

In a statement published on Tuesday, China's Ministry of Education cited both the risk of COVID-19 and "racist incidents targeting Asians" in Australia. Anti-discrimination groups have reported a rise in anti-Asian racism during the pandemic, and media outlets, including the ABC, have covered cases where people of Asian appearance were targeted due to the coronavirus.

Chinese international student Mr Zheng, who did not want his first name used, told the ABC that Chinese people in Australia — including international students and Chinese-Australians — were having a hard time as the diplomatic tension between China and Australia escalated.

The 28-year-old, who is studying a masters degree in biomedicine at the University of Adelaide, said he felt safe in Australia over the last four years, and felt the warning was more of a Canberra-Beijing spat than a genuine concern for the safety of millions of students in China. "The first warning [over the weekend] for travellers was not even necessary, and this one for students has gone too far," Mr Zheng said.

Mr Zheng said he believed students in China should continue to be entitled to choose their destination to study abroad, and told the ABC that he still recommended Australia as a good place for interested Chinese students. "I hope Chinese students who had an intention to study overseas would make their decisions based on their own career and life-planning," he said. "I hope they won't prioritise the authorities' warning for where they are going."

One of Mr Zheng's friends, 28-year-old Chinese student Primo Pan, who is currently studying a PhD in the University of Adelaide, told the ABC the warning was "over the top", even though he had been subject to racism a few times during the COVID-19 pandemic. "There was an increase in racism targeting Chinese people in Australia, but it’s still a safe place where your personal security is not threatened," Mr Pan said.

'I don't believe this allegation has any sort of solid ground'
The warning — which came on the heels of barley tariffs and Australia pushing for an investigation into COVID-19 — has caused a stir on social media and community media sites, with some criticising Beijing's move as being blatantly politically motivated. "The political sense is way more meaningful than the actually scenario. I live in Australia and I feel very well," another Weibo user said.

The latest article published by China's state-owned broadcaster CCTV quoted Australian media reporting on the increase of racially motivated incidents associated with COVID-19. "Looking at the almost crazy discrimination and attacks against Asian ethnic groups, many Australian officials chose to be blind," the article said.

But Dr He-Ling Shi, an associate professor in economics at Monash University, told the ABC Beijing's allegation was unfair. "I don't believe this allegation has any sort of solid ground. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Australian universities have taken various measures and tried to help overseas students ... and also facilitated their studies in Australia," he said.

He said Monash University had put $15 million in grants for international students suffering hardship."In my area, I cannot see any source of discrimination against Chinese students," he said. Dr Shi called the latest travel warning a retaliation against Australia's effort to investigate the origins of the coronavirus, which started in the city of Wuhan.

"I believe that's basically because Australia has urged the international community to start an independent investigation on the origins of COVID-19. This made the Chinese Government a little bit angry, so they want to punish Australia in the commercial area, and personally I don't believe that's a fair action," he said.

"If Australia wants to launch an independent investigation, and this sort of proposal has been supported by the World Health Organization, China should be a good member of the international community. "So, rather than retaliate against Australia, I hope that the Chinese Government can take action to collaborate with the international community in various issues."

Future impact on students
Stephanie Tang is a senior education consultant who is based in Beijing and sends more than 200 Chinese students to Australia every year. She told the ABC the impact of the warning would not show in the short term, as students who were interested in coming to Australia would still apply for Australian universities. "The Chinese Government was actually expressing a political attitude firmly," Ms Tang said. "But we haven't seen any policy that bans Chinese students from applying for Australian universities."

Ms Tang explained that Australia's success in combating COVID-19 has helped the country secure a large number of Chinese students showing more interest in studying in Australia compared to other popular destinations such as the US and UK. "Though [the warning] will damage Australia's reputation in the long term," Ms Tang said.

Ms Tang received messages from dozens of Chinese parents who expressed concerns about their children's safety while studying in Australia. "They are very anxious, but there is no substantial influence yet as the news just came yesterday," she said. "They are watching closely ... but the warning won't make a significant impact on their decisions."

Kirk Yan runs an education and immigration agency across China and Australia. He told the ABC that although he has had several parents from China ask him about the safety issues in Australia after the warning was issued, there is no evidence that students have cancelled their university offers or changed their minds because of it.

"I don't think the warning would have a strong impact on our sector ... for us we can only navigate, we can only accept [the political climate], but now we do have extra work that is to answer questions like 'is Australia safe' that we didn't have to before," he said. "We don't want to see Chinese students become scapegoats [for diplomatic disputes]."

'It's only a matter of time'
It's not the first time that the Chinese Government issued such a warning. In 2019, Beijing issued a similar warning to Chinese students seeking to study in the US, urging them to do "risk assessments".

"This came at a time when tensions from the US-China trade war had escalated, having spilled over into other domains like the South China Sea and how Chinese nationals were being refused US visas or getting duration limits imposed," Dr Pichamon Yeophantong, a senior lecturer in international relations and China issues at UNSW Canberra told the ABC. She is currently surveying Chinese student experiences in Australia and the US.

Short-term visitors to Australia
"While the warning did coincide with a higher rejection rate of Chinese students seeking to study in the US on Chinese government scholarships in 2019, Beijing can't actually prevent every Chinese student who wants to study in the US from doing so," Dr Yeophantong said.

"And while anecdotal evidence suggests that the warning, coupled with intense bilateral friction, did make some Chinese families question the risks involved in sending their children to the US and seek out better alternatives, it didn't seem to result in major changes to the number of Chinese students in the US."

Dr Yeophantong said the warning for Australia might have a very different impact on student numbers, as COVID-19 travel restrictions, along with health and growing racism fears, promise to exacerbate the situation.

"If anything, it's more surprising that such a warning hasn't been issued before. But if left unaddressed, the underlying problem of Chinese students facing increased discrimination and racism in Australia will outlive this current spat, with the potential to become a deep-seated source of future tension in the bilateral relationship."

Senior ministers reject China's claims
Coalition ministers have dismissed the Chinese Government's warnings about racism in Australia. Infrastructure and Population Minister Alan Tudge said while there had been some highly publicised attacks on Asian-Australians, the country remained very safe for international students. "I think there have been many high-profile instances of racism against people of Asian background. But I think those instances are the actions of a tiny minority of cowardly idiots," he told Sky News.

Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Simon Birmingham said it would be a loss to both countries. "We would feel the effect — our universities would, if we saw a downturn in international student numbers. That would be, not only an economic effect, but also impact the diversity of learning that occurs on those campuses and the different perspectives that brings," he told 2GB.

International education contributed $37.6 billion to the Australian economy in the last financial year, according to Government figures. "It would also be a loss to those Chinese students who would lose out on getting a high-quality English language education in one of the safest countries on Earth," Senator Birmingham said. "And for the long term, it would do nothing to help further the mutual understanding between our two nations as well."

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chinese embassy in Canberra have been contacted for comment.

This article written by Bang Xiao and Samuel Yang. Additional reporting by Stephen Dziedzic.

Source: ABC News, June 11, 2020

'Chinese students will not go there': Beijing education agents warn Australia


Chinese education agents say they will not recommend studying in Australia and have threatened to divert thousands of students to the UK as the sector reels from a dispute between Australia and its largest trading partner.

The comments are the first sign that a warning delivered by China's Ministry of Education on Tuesday will trickle down to consumers, as education agents accuse Australia of discriminating against their students and using them as a cash cow.

China is the largest source of overseas students at Australian universities and any decline would put at risk an estimated $3.1 billion of revenue paid by Chinese nationals to the Group of Eight elite research universities alongside RMIT and the University of Technology Sydney.

Austlink chairwoman Amy Mo, a Beijing education agent who has operated in the Australian market for 15 years, said the deteriorating relationship would bring "immeasurable economic losses to Australia".

"If Australian politicians don't regret and keep being the running-dog of the United States in the name of so-called values, Chinese tourists and students will not go there," she said.

"I hope Australia can change its attitude toward China. If a country loves Chinese money but doesn't like Chinese people, China surely is not willing to do business with it."

Ms Mo, who sends 2000 students to Australia a year, said she would consider "opening up the UK market" unless relations improved.

Chinese students account for about 60 per cent of international enrolments at the Group of Eight overall, including 69 per cent at the University of Sydney, 66 per cent at UNSW, 56 per cent at the University of Melbourne and 57 per cent at Monash University. They make up 37 per cent at RMIT and 53 per cent at UTS. Education agents are responsible for 73 per cent of Chinese student enrolments at Australian education providers.

Analysis of enrolment figures and university financial results indicates around 110,000 Chinese enrolments were worth approximately $3.1 billion to these 10 universities in 2018, the bulk of a total $5.4 billion they took in from international student fees.

Luke Sheehy, executive director of the Australian Technology Network of universities, including RMIT and UTS, said the sector had prioritised the welfare of students during the COVID-19 crisis and campuses were "vibrant, safe and welcoming places".

"International students are an important part of our communities. We look forward to welcoming all students back, including those from China and overseas as soon as possible," he said.

The sector felt the brunt of coronavirus restrictions early after Australia shut its borders to non-Australian residents travelling from China on February 1. Three years of strained relations between the two countries deteriorated further after Australia called for a global independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus in March.

China accused Australia of being a puppet advancing US interests in the region and launched two trade strikes on $1 billion worth of beef and barley in April. It followed up this week by warning tourists to reconsider travelling to Australia due to "an alarming increase" in racial discrimination and violence during the pandemic. The allegations have been rejected by the Australian government.

Ma Yu, an education marketing consultant at Aoji.cn, said the ministry of education's warning would "definitely bring a huge impact to their willingness to study abroad". "Parents are keen on the safety of their children and put safety as priority," she said.

Salvatore Babones, adjunct scholar at the Centre for Independent Studies and associate professor at the University of Sydney, said the escalation was the latest step in the Chinese government's push to discourage citizens from going overseas to study.

"I think our universities should expect very few new Chinese commencements throughout the 2020s," he said, arguing that the Chinese government wanted to get people studying at domestic universities and to prevent capital flight from the country.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said a withdrawal of Chinese students would be a loss to both economies.

"For the long term, it would do nothing to help further the mutual understanding between our two nations," he said.

The University of Wollongong was the first Australian university to have its ratings outlook cut to negative on Wednesday. Global ratings agency S&P warned its finances could deteriorate if it is unable to mitigate the revenue loss caused by a decline in onshore international student enrolments. S&P reaffirmed the University of Melbourne's stable rating, but warned downward pressure could occur if travel restrictions persist well into 2021.

John Manning, the vice president of Moody's Investors Service, said China's recent travel advice for students highlights the vulnerability of Australia's higher education sector to geopolitical tensions between Australia and China.

"Next year, revenues will largely depend on whether coronavirus-related travel restrictions are eased," he said. "In the longer term, with a number of universities ranked among the best in the world, we expect Australia's institutions will remain attractive for international students."

A survey of 400 education agents across 63 countries by education provider Navitas found Australia's successful containment of COVID-19 had made it a more attractive study destination, while the reputations of Britain and the United States have suffered.

China's Ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye warned in April that consumers could boycott Australian products including beef, wine, tourism and universities over its pursuit of the inquiry. Of the three sectors hit by Chinese infringements since, wine is the only export yet to be targeted.

This article written by Eryk Bagshaw, Fergus Hunter and Sanghee Liu.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, June 10, 2020

Monday, June 08, 2020

Foreign education dreams in peril: weigh the options


The effects of covid-19 pandemic has disrupted admissions to foreign universities given that travelling is considered unsafe now and individual budgets of parents planning to send their children abroad have taken a hit.

Bengaluru-based Mahesh Madan Bhat, 46, is among the many parents who are in a quandary about sending their children abroad for education now.

Bhat’s daughter Akshata, 18, has received a confirmed offer from a Canadian university for a course in social sciences but the family has decided to request for a deferral of her admission to September 2021. “We’re trying for some Indian universities in the meanwhile," said Bhat, a corporate attorney. Bhat has also opted for the wait-and-watch approach to analyze the job market. “Job prospects abroad will be impacted for non-citizens, as markets are already experiencing massive changes," he said.

According to International Consultants for Education and Fairs (ICEF), India is the world’s second-largest source of international students and one of the fastest-growing markets in terms of sending students abroad.
But like Bhat’s family plans will need to change now. We tell you what the issues are.

Cash crunch
For those with secured jobs and cash flows, the pandemic may not come in the way. But given the market volatility, parents who planned to send their children abroad in the next few years may see some erosion in the education corpus. Bhat believes it may not be prudent to rely on the stock market for someone planning an education abroad in the next few years as markets will take some time to rebound.

If you didn’t save for your child’s education specifically and plan to send her abroad now, it’s imperative to analyze the impact of the pandemic on your finances before taking the plunge.

“It is important to look at all the financial goals in totality. Parents should consider their job security, number of years to retirement, goals relating to other children (if any), and provisioning for contingencies while making such decisions," said Saurabh Bansal, founder, Finatwork Wealth Services, a Sebi-registered investment adviser.

In case the pandemic has disturbed your cash flows or has put you in a crunch, carrying on with the plan of sending your child abroad for studies may not be a good idea.

Jain said some parents are willing to even mortgage their home to send their children abroad but they’re putting themselves in danger by doing this. “During times like this, taking such risks is a big no because there is no certainty if the child will end up in a well-paying job. Parents shouldn’t get too emotional. While there may have been an opportunity for stretching your budget earlier, now isn’t the time given your own jobs could be in danger," she said.

However, for students who planned going abroad in the next couple of months, the situation could be a blessing in disguise because most universities have provisioned for online classes for at least the first term of the programme. “In most cases, the money one would shell out for the first term would come down because living and accommodation expenses can be saved," said Shweta Jain, chief executive officer and founder, Investography, a financial planning firm.

Falling rupee
Owing to the economic growth concerns due to covid-19, between 1 January 2020 and 31 May 2020, the Indian rupee depreciated by about 6% against the US dollar. Though most students may have planned their foreign education well in advance, a sudden depreciation of the rupee could impact the education fund.

A drop in rupee means shelling out more rupees for every dollar. So, if you needed ₹35 lakh (Indian Rupees 3.5 million) last year, for the same course you will now require over ₹37 lakh (Indian Rupees 3.7 million).

“Rupee depreciation does blow your budget quite a bit. Also, it’s not just the course fee that gets impacted. Living and other costs inflate too and, therefore, more the currency depreciates, higher the impact on your money," said Jain.
For students who plan to fund their education through a loan, higher rupee depreciation would translate into higher EMIs or longer repayment term.

How much you end up spending will also depend on the country you wish to study in. Some countries such as the UK too have witnessed a fall in the currency value.

“The pound sterling has been depreciating which means the UK is comparatively a better destination in terms of value. The UK government also recently announced the return of the post-study work visa (to be introduced for international students graduating in summer 2021 or later), permitting two years of work in the UK after graduating in 2021, which can help one recoup their investment," said James Pitman, managing director, Study Group, an international education service provider.

Mint take
If you’re unsure and don’t want to risk sending your child abroad this year, it’s best to wait it out and see if the university allows the deferral of admission.

“While, historically, deferrals are rare, especially for MBA programmes, there may be exceptions this year. There is no harm in asking," said Kimberly Dixit, co-founder and CEO, The Red Pen, an overseas education consultancy.

If you are planning to fund your education through a loan, take into account the uncertainty around jobs and assess if things will stabilize by the time you graduate.

“At this point, taking a loan may not be a good idea. You could defer your plan by a year or so to know the fallout of the ongoing crisis. You will also have to keep the student visa protocols in mind. If you can’t defer your education, see if you can pick a university with a lower fee without compromising too much on the quality," said Deepali Sen, founder partner, Srujan Financial Advisers, a financial planning firm.

Parents who are planning to send their children abroad in the next couple of years should ensure they have a plan B in case the prospects for higher education abroad look bleak.

Jain said parents should move savings into a liquid fund at least a year before the child is set to go abroad and provision for a buffer of 10-15%. Parents must also take rupee depreciation into account while budgeting.

Finally, parents must avoid compromising on other goals, especially their own retirement, just to fulfil the child’s education goal.

This article is written by Disha Sanghvi.

Source: Mint, June 7, 2020

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