Higher education exchanges between China and UK should not be easily cut off by politics: analysts
Published: Sep 13, 2023 11:17 PM Updated: Sep 13, 2023 11:08 PM
Chinese students board a charter flight from Southwest China’s Chongqing to Manchester, UK in September 2020. Photo: cnsphoto

Chinese students board a charter flight from Southwest China’s Chongqing to Manchester, UK in September 2020. Photo: cnsphoto

The expansion of university enrollment, including those in the UK, especially the recruitment of more international students, is determined by the trend of globalization and internationalization, and cannot be simply cut off for political reasons and racial discrimination, analysts said.

UK universities will suffer greatly from the continuing diplomatic rift between China and the UK, as more than one in every four PhD places now goes to Chinese students, a report led by a former minister has warned.

The study, co-authored by the former universities minister Lord Jo Johnson, found that many leading institutions remain highly dependent on Chinese students for tuition fee income as well as to fill postgraduate research courses in subjects such as economics, science and technology.

A sudden rise in tensions between the two countries - recently a parliamentary researcher was arrested for allegedly spying for China - could see the pipeline shut off, leaving UK universities with few viable alternatives after the collapse in EU student numbers coming to the UK since Brexit.

A British parliamentary researcher has been arrested on suspicion of spying for China in what is alleged to be one of the most damaging breaches of security involving a hostile state at Westminster, according to reports from the Sunday Times on September 10.

The researcher, who is in his 20s, is understood to have had links to security minister Tom Tugendhat, foreign affairs committee chairwoman Alicia Kearns and other senior Tory MPs, media reported, adding that the MPs he is linked to are privy to classified or highly sensitive information.

The estimated total benefit to the UK economy from 2021-22 first-year international students over the duration of their studies was approximately£41.9 billion- up by 34 percent from £31.3 billion in 2018-19, according to a report released by UK educational institutions.

Chinese students make up the largest proportion of international students in the UK, with 99,965 newcomers from China entering UK universities in 2021/22, accounting for a quarter of international students in the country.

At present, most universities in the UK do not have severe restrictions on Chinese students due to political considerations, an employee at a Beijing-based study abroad agency told the Global Times on Wednesday.

"However, students applying for nuclear-related programs need to provide additional materials for their visa application," said the employee.

Since the US tightened restrictions and controls on Chinese students a few years ago, students who come to the inquiry have been asked whether such restrictions will be extended to UK universities, she added.

The exchange between students from both countries has always been an important part of China-UK cultural exchanges, and has for a long time strongly promoted the mutual communication and understanding between the two peoples, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in response to relevant matters.

The expansion of university enrollment, especially the recruitment of international students, is determined by the trend of globalization and internationalization, Liu Xin, a professor at the Institute of Organization and Human Resources at the School of Public Administration of Renmin University of China, told the Global Times.

Since the vast majority of Chinese students do not work or stay in the UK in the long run, there is no significant adverse impact on local society, said the expert.

As more and more international students come to the UK after the haze of the epidemic has lifted, many Chinese studying science and engineering, just like me, are particularly worried that our studies will be interrupted at any time due to the increasing tensions in bilateral relations, just like some of the Chinese students in the US, an undergraduate student surnamed Sun in the UK told the Global Times on Wednesday.

"As Chinese students, we not only need to adapt to our study life in the UK from various aspects such as language and customs, but also bear the psychological and economic pressure that political factors may bring us," Sun said.

British mediaoutlet the BBC earlier revealed that there has been bullying against Chinese students at the Bartlett School of Architecture (BSA), based at University College London (UCL), one of the top universities in the UK.

Allegations concerning one senior tutor included that they had directed bullying, sexist and racist remarks toward Chinese students, and had thrown materials at or near students.