A business college at the University of Illinois has taken out an insurance policy against the potential catastrophic loss of revenue from high-fee-paying students from China.
Educators and social-media commentators are expressing fears the river of money flowing from Chinese students into Canada, the U.S., Britain and Australia will dry up because of a brewing trade war and the arrest in Vancouver of Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou.
The government of China has said it has more than 600,000 students studying abroad, the vast majority of them in English-language countries. Highly desired Canada has more than 186,000 of them, according to China’s Toronto consulate (the federal government’s figure is slightly lower). That means China’s young people make up roughly one in three of all 500,000 international students in Canada.
Despite China’s ambassador to Canada last week hammering English-speaking countries as “arrogant” and rife with “white supremacy” for their defence of Meng’s arrest, there is no sign that China’s leaders are ready to follow the lead of Saudi Arabia’s rulers, who reacted to Canada’s human rights comments last year by calling back most of the Saudi students in Canada.
“I don’t think the Chinese will be as petulant as the Saudis were, or as unsophisticated, although they may make more subtle changes over time,” Andrew Griffith, a migration researcher and former senior director in Canada’s Immigration Department, said.
Canada could even attract more Chinese students in the future in part because the number entering the U.S. appears to be flattening out, possibly because of President Donald Trump’s rhetoric about China and immigrants. That’s why Illinois business college dean Jeffrey Brown, realizing his school had become highly dependent on Chinese students’ money, took out an insurance policy with Lloyd’s of London.
Canada hosts eight times more Chinese students per capita than the U.S., suggesting this country’s educational institutions are more dependent on, if not addicted to, their fees than U.S. colleges. Some higher-education researchers are calling the phenomenon “academic capitalism.”
It’s the expanding trend in English-language countries to make up for steadily eroding taxpayer funding of schools, colleges and universities by capitalizing on the full fees paid by students from mostly well-off families from around the world, with China providing by far the biggest group.
Some Canadian educators, and researchers like Mengwei Su and Laura Harrison of Ohio University, say the intense concentration of Chinese students in Western schools brings with it drawbacks, however, mainly for the students themselves.
Even though Western universities welcome Chinese students as “a particularly lucrative market,” Su and Harrison found many of the young Chinese struggle with English and integrating into Western culture — partly because they are ending up in classrooms and living situations dominated by other students from China.
“Seventy per cent of the students in my class are from China,” one Chinese student told the Ohio researchers, describing the sense of social segregation. “The class is not much different from that in our country,” said another Chinese pupil. One young woman from China opted to study in the Netherlands rather than North America, saying, “I want to avoid too many Chinese students.”
Against a backdrop in which the taxpayer-funded proportion of the operating budgets of B.C.’s public universities has drastically declined in recent decades, more than half the foreign undergraduate students at Simon Fraser University, more than 2,700, now come from China.
The University of B.C. has 5,000 students from China, almost one third of its international student population. Scores of public high schools, colleges and two-room private language institutes also take in hefty fees from the roughly 50,000 Chinese students in B.C., mostly Metro Vancouver.
The federal Liberal government is busily wooing more Chinese students, however. Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is following the enthusiastic lead of former minister John McCallum and saying “We’ll do whatever we can” to bring in an increasing number of students from China.
Hussen maintains international students in Canada, whose numbers have been recently jumping by roughly one quarter annually, funnel $11.6 billion a year into Canada’s economy, adding they also enhance “cultural exchange.” To make it easier for more Chinese students to jet across the Pacific Ocean to Canada, the Liberal government recently opened seven new visa centres in China. Hussen acknowledged such students can contribute to the housing and rental squeeze in cities such as Toronto and Metro Vancouver, particularly since many offshore parents buy Canadian homes for their offspring.
Western “higher education institutions are slowly evolving into a corporate-like enterprise that pursues monetary gains, at times eclipsing their educational mission,” write Su and Harrison, of Ohio University, echoing growing sentiment among scholars of higher education.
The Ohio researchers found a key financial problem is that some overseas recruiting “agents” are exploiting international students, with more than half the Chinese students they surveyed hiring these advisers to navigate their complicated route to the West.
The trouble with agents dominating the field of global education, according to Su and Harrison, is many are providing misinformation to students, steering them to inappropriate schools and not warning them about how difficult it will likely be to learn workable English. Many students get stuck in never-ending English-remediation classes.
To root out abuse and increase overseas families’ trust in such agents, Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Ireland have developed a code to regulate them, say Thompson Rivers University researchers Victoria Handford and Halying Li.
But Canada has not signed on to the protocol, which is designed to ensure the agents behave more ethically.
Meanwhile, Canada’s recruiting continues apace.
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