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Over the past two decades, the number of students leaving mainland China to study abroad increased from 39,000 in 2000 to 662,100 in 2018. Chinese students form a large share of international students in many countries including the United States, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom (East Asia Forum). Among these are nearly 370,000 Chinese students in the U.S. Apart from the immediate educational impact on these students, it is also an extremely important income stream for Western universities, indeed the financial stability of some of them could be threatened if there is a severe change of direction. But there is one area of high importance to Christians, which is that significant numbers of these students have found faith in the Lord Jesus during their time overseas.

But in the “new normal” (or non-normal) of the Covid-19 era, that trend may be about to change. “A British Council survey of 11,000 Chinese students over March–April 2020 found that 13 per cent were unlikely to return to study overseas, 22 per cent were likely to cancel their study plans and 39 per cent were undecided.”

One reason is whether the Chinese Middle Class will be able to pay high level student fees at foreign universities with the post Covid-19 economic slowdown.

Another compounding factor is that the Trump administration ordered that “international students who are pursuing degrees in the USA will have to leave the country or risk deportation if their universities have on-line courses”. Some schools, including Harvard and the University of Southern California, are opting for online-only instruction. More recently that US government order was reversed, but the situation is not clear.

At the same time the battle over China’s Confucius Institutes has not helped. “A US bipartisan report in 2019 blasted Confucius Institutes at more than 100 US universities as too strictly controlled by China and a threat to academic freedom.” In 2018 there were 548 institutes and nearly 2,000 Confucius classrooms in 154 countries, most of them at foreign universities or institutions. Beijing is now abandoning its Confucius Institute brand after a global backlash over censorship, switching to a new look as a centre for “language exchange and cooperation”. But in the current climate suspicions are high regarding China’s attempts to influence education and government in Western nations.

Then there is the fallout from the Hong Kong situation and other China-related issues. POST Magazine spoke of New York’s 2,300 Chinese students who attend the University of Rochester, 19 per cent of its student body. “Tunnel wars” broke out, with Chinese students of different political loyalties “using the university tunnels, which were built to allow warm passage between buildings during frigid winters, as a focal point for campus political discourse, and over the preceding few months the discourse has been ugly.”

Pray for wisdom for Western leaders in dealing with student visas from China and other lands in a very complex and hostile new world order.

Pray for the Lord to be working in the hearts and minds of Chinese students in a new way.

Pray for the Chrstian ministries that seek to reach out to Chinese students, to care for them and win them to Christ.

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Published on August 15, 2020
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