International education is one of the most important components of Australia's economy. It is the country's fourth largest export after coal, iron ore and natural gas. By September 2019, 720,150 students from around the world had contributed A$35.2 billion ($24.3 billion) to the Australian economy, making up 8 percent of Australia's total exports. Among the international student population, 170,547 enthusiastic and promising young scholars are from China.
Chinese students currently make up about 38 percent of international student enrolments at secondary and higher education institutions in Australia, well overtaking those from India, the second-biggest cohort of international students, which forms about 18 percent of the total international student intake.
While a number of Australian education providers and media outlets have been raising groundless concerns about the recent 5 percent decline in the number of Chinese students going to study in Australia's schools and universities, some imprudent and irresponsible journalists and academics have taken advantage of this inadvertent drop to stoke fears that China is using its prospective students as a leverage to exert political influence and pressure on Australia, trying to create an obnoxious scare campaign in the outdated style of the Cold War.
It is true that any significant decline in Chinese students would indeed bring about economic calamity to Australian universities and secondary schools. For example, at the University of Sydney alone in 2017, Chinese enrolments generated A$ 500 million, which was in fact one-fifth of the university's annual revenue.
It is not in the interest of either China or Australia to suspend or even halt education exchanges and collaboration, and Beijing would never myopically politicize international education, which is never in compliance with China's principle of cultural diplomacy, which highlights amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness.
However, it is dumbfounding to learn that Australia has been continually obstructing and delaying the visa processing of 135 Chinese PhD candidates and 30 visiting students who have applied for Australian visas and waited for over 5 months or even over a year.
We understand that Australian immigration authorities have their own way of scrutinizing visa applications. However, given the fact that the normal procedure of visa processing takes usually at most four months for PhD students' visa application, and 26 days for visiting scholars, the recent bewildering postponement of visa decision raises serious concerns here in China, in particular among students and scholars who aspire to seek education and research opportunities in Australia.
International students are the most cherished asset for both the source and destination countries. Students' reception and experience in Australia would shape and reshape their impression and understanding of the host country, consolidating an indelible imprint which would be brought back to China and stay in their memory for life.
It is indeed senseless for Australian authorities to target Chinese students, the young generation which aspires to pursue education and career development in Australia's higher education institutions largely because of their fondness of and affinity to the country and its world-class education system.
To use visas to block prospective Chinese students is like building up the allegorical Trumpian wall, which purports to stop the free flow of human knowledge and the mutually beneficial cooperation in scientific inquiry related to the mysteries and wonders of the world and the universe.
Blind adherence to America's reckless attempts to contain and impede China's peaceful rise is illogical and senseless. China's development can never be stopped. Its prosperity would only render valuable benefits to the region and the world.
It is alarming that most of young Chinese visa applicants have science and engineering backgrounds, especially in chemistry, computer science, materials science and civil engineering. It seems the Australian Home Affairs officials are not so willing to grant border access to the young scholars from China in these fields. The peers of these students are in fact facing similar treatment when applying to American education institutions. Anyone would be compelled to believe that this is a concerted attempt by Western powers to thwart scientific and technological development of China.
Canberra might want to be reminded that its international PhD students are not cannon fodder for US international political agenda. Australia has its own geopolitical and geoeconomic interests, which Washington won't care about with the White House promoting its guiding principle of America First.
The author Chen Hong is a professor and director of Australian Studies Center, East China Normal University. firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Global Times