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Agents warn Chinese students to bypass Australia and New Zealand

A resurgence in Chinese students studying in Australia and New Zealand is unlikely in the near future, with education agents in the world’s most populous country reportedly closing their Australia-only desks. 

Agents are telling prospective Chinese students to “hedge their bets” by applying to other countries, as Australia’s borders are likely to remain closed until mid-2022, Times Higher Education (THE) reported. 

The latest analysis by global education chain Navitas shows the UK is now far more appealing to prospective Chinese students than Australia. It also found that “Chinese agents rate Canberra only slightly ahead of Westminster on coronavirus management, notwithstanding their ‘high expectations’ around student safety,” THE said.

“This is puzzling given the two countries have had very divergent public health approaches and outcomes during COVID-19,” Navitas said. 

“While the UK failed to manage case counts, it is now making up for it with a stellar vaccination programme.”

The latest findings follow the bleak Navitas Agent Perception Report for March 2021 and the release of the Australian government’s federal budget. The budget foreshadowed challenging times ahead for Australia’s international student market, with assumptions borders would remain closed until mid-2022. 

However, during a May 16 press conference, Prime minister Scott Morrison said the return of international students would become a priority once Australians were vaccinated and could travel. 

“I welcome the fact that universities are stumping up to work with state governments to put … facilities in place to support their students coming back,” Morrison said. 

“We’ll look at that very favourably.”

Education minister Alan Tudge also said the Australian government was “working through” plans developed by several states, but added that roughly 150,000 international students remain offshore, THE reported.  

“Can we get to those sort of numbers in the first half of next year? I don’t know. Our main focus at the moment is … to see if we can get smaller-scale pilots up and running later this year. We’re just taking one step at a time,” Tudge said.

The Navitas March survey of nearly 900 agents made clear that “Australia and New Zealand will be spectators, not beneficiaries, of a recovery in global student flows in 2021”. Indeed, it went on to say that agents “have all but written off the southern hemisphere’s academic year”, with only 4 per cent believing travel to Australia will be possible in the second half of 2021.

“In contrast, ten times as many agents would consider it almost certain that students would be able to travel to Canada (39 per cent) or the UK (45 per cent),” Navitas said.

“As for the first half of 2022, 28 per cent of agents believe travel to either Australia or New Zealand will be ‘almost certain’ – much more prospective than 2021, but much less likely than the UK (64 per cent) or Canada (59 per cent)."

Navitas' latest analysis found that education agents are recommending international students begin their studies online and switch to on-campus enrolments once borders are more widely open. Applying to multiple countries is another recommendation education experts are making, highlighting the “unpredictability” facing the sector. 

“Until tuition fees are paid and students arrive on campus, it would be prudent not to assume that [they] will continue through the conversion funnel as they have done in previous years,” Navitas warned.

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