Coronavirus Interrupts Education Plans for Thousands of Students

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China sends more students and scholars to U.S. institutions of higher education than any other nation in the world. More than 369,000 Chinese individuals studied in America during the 2018-2019 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education.

Tens of thousands of these students are currently stranded in their home country as colleges and universities across America issue travel restrictions in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Meanwhile, American students who planned to study abroad in China are scrambling to come up with alternative plans. Duke University, for example, has a satellite campus in the city of Wuhan, which is the center of the crisis. It recently closed the campus to nonessential personnel until Feb. 24 and is helping students evacuate and develop online learning plans, according to PBS.

Most other colleges and universities are banning all travel from China after the U.S. Department of State issued an emergency travel advisory on Feb. 2. The U.S. government-funded Fulbright program, which funds overseas research and teaching for American undergraduate and graduate students, also ordered all its participants in China to leave the country on Feb. 4.

Two out of the 12 confirmed cases in the U.S. involve college students. One is a Chinese student at Arizona State University (ASU), where more than 3,000 students from China are enrolled. Another is a student at the University of Massachusetts Boston, who was deemed positive for the virus on Feb. 1.

As fear of transmission spreads on U.S. campuses, many are raising concerns about an increase in bias against Chinese students.

In a recent interview with ABC 15 Arizona, ASU president Michael Crow alluded to an uptick in such incidents, telling ABC news partner KTAR that the university is trying to turn biased attitudes or incidents against Chinese students into “instructional moments.”

Last week, the University of California, Berkeley provoked outrage when the University Health Services Tang Center shared tips for managing anxiety about the virus, saying that “normal reactions” might include “xenophobia” and “fears about interacting with those who might be from Asia.” Officials have since removed the post and apologized.

On Feb. 4, China’s New York consul general, Huang Ping, felt the need to remind the international community that the “virus is the enemy, not the Chinese.”

Speaking from Geneva, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that the outbreak is considered a global public health emergency because of the potential impact it could have on countries with weak healthcare systems. In a statement on its website, WHO said that it “does not recommend any travel or trade restriction based on the current information available.”

On Feb. 1, the Australian government issued travel ban on China. As a result, nearly half of the country’s Chinese international students are stranded offshore as the new term is set to begin in February, according to Al Jazeera News. The country enrolls approximately 200,000 Chinese students annually and could lose as much as $8 billion dollars by barring them from attendance, an official told the news service.

As of Feb. 12, there are more than 45,653 confirmed cases of the illness in China and 24 other countries, of which 1,113 — all in China — were fatal. 

This is only the sixth time WHO has issued the “emergency” warning, the most recent one being about the Ebola virus, a hemorrhagic fever that spread across West Africa in 2014.