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‘Wait until further notice’: China responds to international students’ petition, but scarce on details

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Authorities have not been able to provide students with a timeline over their return to China. Source: Wang Zhao/AFP

International students continue to be frustrated by the country’s response regarding their return to China, lamenting that the Foreign Ministry’s response did not address the issues they had been raising. Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin was quoted saying by The PIE News that the question had already been raised “many times” and that “each time we gave you a response”.

“I would like to recap our position. First, as [the] COVID-19 situation remains severe, all countries are taking prevention and containment measures based on their own conditions,” he said. “This is to protect the safety and health of all citizens, including students. I’m sure everyone will understand this.

“Second, we hope the international community will strengthen anti-epidemic cooperation to win the fight as soon as possible so that students can return to campus sooner rather than later. Third, on the precondition of observing containment protocols, the Chinese authorities will study in a coordinated manner the matter of allowing foreign students to come back for their studies and maintain communication with relevant parties.”

Students are calling out the lack of details on Twitter. Twitter user Virtual virus said, “Surely it isn’t that hard for @MFA_China to just come out with a statement saying “we will open visa for students in 202X”. When Twitter account “Take students back to China” — created by Russian students affected by China’s border closures — posed a question to final-year students, especially those studying medicine or who are required to complete an internship or lab work to graduate, about their current situation, many replies suggested that universities have not been able to give them helpful answers over their predicament.

One student replies, “They said ‘we can’t help you. We don’t have answers to your problems.’ ‘Wait until further notice.’” Another Twitter user says, “I’m a fourth-year student, we studied two semesters online, no lab and hospital classes. My life is ruined.  How will I overcome this burden? And if we ask our supervisor, she says ‘I really don’t know.’ It’s really disgusting we don’t know who to ask, and who is running these things.” Another user, Benjamin Kross, says, “our schools shockingly hasn’t said anything to us. we are just frustrated.”

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Many international students are unable to complete their internships or lab work until they return to China. Source: Johannes Eisele/AFP

Online campaigns to blaze return to China

International students are campaigning online, including starting a petition, for their return to China. China International Student Union (CISU), which consists of representatives from over 200 universities across China, had previously penned an open letter to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide a clear date for their return.

CISU said international students face numerous challenges, including paying fees for physical rather than online classes, which is not what they paid or signed up for, adding that “online classes are of extremely poor quality.” Many international students are also struggling with the time difference between their home countries and China, which “makes online classes impossible.” They argue that with safe travel protocols, it is possible to facilitate their return to Chinese universities.

Many Indian medical students are also struggling to study online, according to The Quint, as the course requires intense clinical exposure and practice. “In the name of online classes, our teachers are uploading PPTs [PowerPoint presentation] and reading from them in pre-recorded videos. On one hand, we have no access to practical learning while on the other, universities are failing to impart even theoretical knowledge. Despite all of this, the universities are demanding a full course fee which is in lakh,” it said. Indians write a million thus: 10,00,000, which refers to 10 lakh.

International students have been locked out of China since March 2020 due to COVID-19-related border closures. Students are also campaigning for their return to China and voicing their frustrations over the lack of support and information by Chinese universities and authorities via Twitter hashtags #TakeStudentsBacktoChina and #TakeUsBackToSchool. 

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