International students have become integral to plugging higher education's funding gap. Many are from China—and they're not likely to return anytime soonby Yuan Ren / May 11, 2020 / Leave a comment
Four weeks ago, my cousin fled the UK on a last-minute, one way ticket to China with a price so hiked up she refused to reveal what she paid. The seat had become available in the morning, and she was out of her University College London dorm by midday, leaving behind what she called “a dangerous Britain” with no plans to return.
She did so in the knowledge that a 14-day mandatory quarantine awaited her on the other side. Meals delivered to her hotel room in China included jackfruit, meat stew, curry and omelettes—all part of the small fortune she was paying for the pleasure of isolation. The government had hoped that strict quarantine measures would deter returnees and ward off a second wave of infections. But they did little to curb the students flooding back from around the world. In March, the biggest proportion of “imported” cases to China came from the UK, ahead of Spain and Italy.
As cases of Covid-19 soared across Europe—and as the British government floated a “herd immunity” strategy—the simmering panic among Chinese parents with children studying abroad boiled into full-on hysteria. Many feared their generous tuition fees were sending their only child—born out of the one-child policy—to early graves. My own uncle and aunt had the impression that the UK was feeding its people to the wolves. Even the prime minister couldn’t stay safe. All around me, friends confirmed they had left the UK for China after being begged by their parents.
Before coronavirus, the UK was booming in Chinese students. With intensifying trade wars between America and China and a sliding British pound, more families in China have looked to the UK. 2019 brought a ten per cent rise in total non-EU international students—a third were from China. In the last six years, the UK has seen a 34 per cent jump in Chinese students. A Beijing-based friend started a business in 2016 helping secondary students get into universities in the US and UK. It was big money—parents paid for interview training, essay writing, university touring and year-round mentoring, on top of the paperwork.
It’s not surprising that UK universities have become…