COVID, Geopolitics, and the Concerns of Chinese International Students: Continuities and Changes

The global political climate has had a direct impact on international higher education and the mobility of international students. China has become the key source country for international students, prompting recent calls for lowering the risks of over-reliance on a single country. Despite these concerns, the number of Chinese students continues to grow in some countries, despite predictions of a drop due to the pandemic. However, geopolitical concerns are continuing to influence international student mobility, especially the tensions between China and the US, which hosts the largest number of Chinese students. The Chinese government has also shown its apparent willingness to link student mobility to geopolitical concerns. Our research with education agents shows that safety – both from the virus but also from potential social violence – is a key concern of Chinese students and their families. These concerns are being shaped by geopolitical discourse and could be linked to changes in the major trends of Chinese student mobility and a potential ‘collapse’ in the numbers of Chinese students intending to study abroad after the pandemic.

Dr Miguel Antonio Lim is Senior Lecturer in Education and Impact Coordinator at the Manchester Institute of Education at the University of Manchester. He is co-convenor of the Higher Education Research Network at Manchester. His research interests include internationalization of higher education, East Asian and transnational higher education, university rankings and performance metrics. Previously, he was EU-Marie Curie Fellow at Aarhus University, Denmark, and task force leader on migration and higher education at the EU-Marie Curie Alumni Association. He has worked and taught at Sciences Po-Paris, the London School of Economics (LSE), and University College London (UCL).