Dispute follows departure of 49 Saudi students last fall
Special to The Guardian
Some students at the University of Prince Edward Island are concerned the ongoing diplomatic spat between Canada and China could have an impact on their studies.
Donald Li, a Chinese student currently enrolled in the masters of education program at UPEI, said world politics could have a direct effect on his life.
“I see it has potential consequences to our lives at all aspects,” Li said.
Li’s biggest concern is that Canadian immigration policies, or Chinese policies related to international students, could change as a result of the conflict.
Although he doesn’t believe the Chinese government will withdraw Chinese students from Canada, he is concerned the relations between Canada and China are headed in a negative direction.
"In China, there is a very high censorship in the media. So, every time we see this very sensitive news, we don't know the reasons and we don't know where it will go," Li said.
Relations between Canada and China have been strained after the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, last December in Vancouver. Wanzhou is facing possible extradition to the U.S., where she has been accused of circumventing sanctions against Iran. In apparent retaliation, the Chinese government has since detained two Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
Both the Canadian and Chinese governments have issued travel warnings related to the dispute. Canadian universities are concerned the political tensions could put a damper on Chinese students’ mobility to Canada.
The conflict between the governments of Canada and China follows an earlier diplomatic dispute impacting international students from another part of the world.
Last year, over 8,000 Saudi Arabian students were pulled out of Canada, after Canada’s minister of foreign affairs posted a tweet that criticized the country’s human rights record. This caused a loss of approximately $140 million in revenues from Canadian post-secondary institutions. Forty-nine Saudi Arabian students at UPEI had to leave the country with their programs unfinished.
Tim Goddard, a UPEI education professor, believes that the Canada-China spat also poses a risk for UPEI and other Canadian universities.
"It was very difficult, especially for some of the bigger universities who have a huge number of students, because it's a cash flow issue," Goddard said, referring to the loss of Saudi students.
He said the international students make up nearly 25 per cent of the students at UPEI. International students are paying fees that are triple those of domestic students. Living expenditures of students are also a big contributor to the local economy. The influences of the diplomatic spat affect not only Goddard and his students but also the university and the economy of P.E.I.
Canada is the third most popular destination for international students worldwide. In 2018, there were 572,415 international students in Canada, an increase of 73 per cent over 2014. Canada derives nearly $15.5 billion annually from international student expenditures including tuition and living expenses.
“It is problematic for universities to rely on money from students from a handful of countries that may face a sudden political crisis. Institutions should not rely on any one of the groups for their revenues,” Goddard said.
India and China are the two largest sources of international student population in Canada, accounting for 30.2 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively.
In P.E.I., students originating from China make up the largest group of international students. There are 142,985 Chinese students currently studying in Canada.
"I personally would be very doubtful that, as an official policy, China would recall its students. I wouldn't see that happening,” said Goddard. “But what I could see happening is it becoming more difficult for people to get a study visa. They might be encouraged not to go.”
Goddard believes there might be many different ways to affect Chinese students’ decisions to study in Canada. But any reduction of the pipeline of students coming in could have dire consequences for most Canadian universities.
Despite the risks, Goddard believes it is a good thing for universities to attract international students.
“You have to be able to function in a multicultural, multi-lingual, diverse society. Universities should reflect that,” Goddard said.
In an emailed statement, a UPEI communications representative said the university has so far not seen any negative impacts from the Canada-China dispute.
“We are constantly keeping an eye on any potential issues that might interfere with our students and potential students, but there are no impacts at this time,” the representative said in the statement.
Xi Du is an international student enrolled in the masters of education global perspectives program at UPEI who is doing a work placement at The Guardian.
By the numbers
- International students in P.E.I. (2017): 2,490
- Increase in UPEI international student enrolment between 2017 and 2018: 15.5%
- Increase in UPEI domestic student enrolment between 2017 and 2018: 2.1%