The number of international students attending universities has increased dramatically in recent years, with China being the leading source. Between 2017 and 2018, the total number of international students studying in the UK was just under half a million. According to recent data, the pandemic has not had an adverse effect on the amount of students looking to study abroad, in fact, the UK is set for an increase of 9% in enrollments from non-EU students this academic year.
The worldwide spread of Covid-19 has caused mass xenophobia, racism, and discrimination, with Chinese students reporting more experiences of racism due to the virus first being identified in Wuhan, China. So, why are students still looking at UK universities for their higher education, and how can institutions make their current and prospective Chinese students feel safe, welcomed and supported?
Here are some tips to help you connect with your Chinese students and reduce their emotional stress.
Denounce prejudice with facts
The lack of specific knowledge on the coronavirus has led to a culture of fear, igniting irrational and often racist beliefs. Anti-Chinese hate speech on Twitter jumped by 900% in response to the pandemic, fuelled by comments by Donald Trump calling it ‘the Chinese virus’. Due to the global nature of the pandemic, xenophobia towards Chinese students has become widespread, and does not stop at the US. In the UK, students reported ‘high levels of anxiety, discrimination and insecurity’ due to UK students perpetuating the current narrative in the US that Covid-19 is a ‘Chinese virus’.
With a background of hate and fear-mongering, universities need to put adequate measures in place to send a strong message of zero tolerance for racism and xenophobia in all spaces, including in their messaging to prospective students, as well as acting as a trusted and true source of information about the pandemic for their students, to help counter any misinformation spreading via social media.
"International students from China are experiencing very high levels of anxiety, discrimination and insecurity living through the coronavirus period. [...] I cannot say that Western universities are doing enough to protect Asian students… During this difficult time, it becomes much more important for universities to publicly denounce xenophobia.”
Usually, if students experience racism on campus, they should be helped and protected by university policies on student conduct as well as mental health and support services. Now, with students learning online, they are more likely to feel like they’re on their own. Students are stripped of their campus support systems and may not know where to turn for help.
“The proliferation of anti-Asian images and comments, in association with fears over coronavirus, show that while colleges and universities are sites of learning, they are also places where misinformation and racism can spread all too quickly.”
Provide more online support for students
Even remotely, you can support your Chinese students by crafting engaging social media posts speaking out against anti-Asian discrimination. Social and cultural opportunities should be encouraged through societies and webinars to actively combat prejudice. This can quickly generate mass awareness and also make your Chinese students feel that the university has seen their concerns and will stand up for them. It can also strengthen your institution’s values while conveying a strong message to your current and prospective students that your institution unequivocally condemns any racist and xenophobic behaviour.
“We need to strive to deepen young people's experiences on racial justice and cross-cultural relationship-building in school and out of school while adopting resources from the community."
Promote cultural events in a spirit of inclusion
There is a lot of media commentary at the moment portraying China as both a security threat and a sinister culture. Students used to relish in taking part in cultural festivities as part of the university experience, but now UK students are actively avoiding socialisation with those from different cultural backgrounds. As the current political climate between China and the US continues to heat up alongside the global public health crisis, it can be challenging for Chinese students to manage their wellbeing through the pandemic and return home and celebrate with their loved ones, due to travel restrictions and their alienation in the UK.
You can help to make Chinese students feel more welcome and included on your campus by making it a ‘safe space’ separate from the general political background. Celebrate Chinese New Year and promote China-related cultural events as the norm to make Chinese students an integral part of your institution. This can be done through social media campaigns and through encouraging societies to include a cultural week in their yearly activities. This can also create a strong sense of community, bringing all students together and giving them the chance to meet new people and learn about different cultures.
We know from previous research that students want universities to listen to them, to support them and to stand up for causes they believe in. Get these things right, and you can help your prospective and current Chinese students feel they truly belong at your institution.
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can better support and reach your China student market with these tips, get in touch with our Chinese marketing specialists.