The novel coronavirus outbreak has not only affected life in China but also immigrants to the country who have been forced to leave. Most recently, the Government of India has suspended e-visas for Chinese passport holders and other nationals residing in China, indicating that the epidemic’s impact is going to last a long time. In India’s case, the Centre has been airlifting Indians willing to return to India from countries more affected by the spread of the SARS-CoV-2.
In the context of international migration: in recent years, China has been attracting young scientists, professionals and students from India. As most Indian scientists are fluent in English, Chinese institutions are inducting them by offering high salaries and providing bonuses, especially exclusively for scientific publications in peer-reviewed English journals.
China draws on Indian talent, especially in the sciences, and at the same time Indian scientists working as postdoctoral and research associates are pressured to produce more joint-scientific publications with their Chinese colleagues. China is the second-fastest growing economy in the world and an upper-middle-income country, but Indians prefer it for its geographic proximity and for cheap education in certain higher education programmes.
Since 2015, the number of Indian students completing medical degrees (MBBS) and taking foreign medical graduate exams is on the rise – corroborated by data released by the Chinese Ministry of Education, from 16,694 in 2015 to 23,198 in 2018. Also, India was ranked fifth in 2015 and fourth in 2018 – highest for the country of origin of international students in China. Based on the list of institutes approved by the Ministry of Education, as of 2019-2020, the Medical Council of India has recognised and issued eligibility certificates to 45 Chinese medical colleges to admit foreign students for English-medium medical degrees.
Further, the Hubei Province, in which the city of Wuhan is located, has 21,371 international students. The city of Chongqing in the Sichuan Province, hosting 13,990 international students, is next to Wuhan in this outbreak. Sichuan University is one of the most popular destinations for Indian medical students, especially from South India.
Medical institutions in China are giving hope for Indian students to become doctors. And it is apparent that China is using the Indian student market as an opportunity to internationalise its institutions and draw more students from middle-income families to obtain medical degrees, as tuition fees in China are relatively lower compared to private medical universities in India. There is also stiff competition for government medical admissions in India.
Chinese universities provide full scholarships and minor scholarships for English-medium international students to study medicine. Although the number of scholarships is very small, it has still been successful as a strategy to attract Indian students, and hasn’t yet been emulated by other similar destination countries, such as Russia and Ukraine. Generally, in 2018, 63,041 international students (12.81%) received Chinese government scholarships, 429,144 (87.19%) of which were self-funded.
The infrastructure and facilities in Chinese medical universities and English-medium medical courses are the next biggest draws, after low education and living costs. Educational consultants in India play a significant role in promoting China as a viable destination to study medicine and the admissions process is monopolised by these consultants, functioning at different locations in India. Indeed, this is a new trend in student migration from India and in the context of migration within Asia.
While interacting with a few students studying in China, but who are now in India, we came to learn that they have cancelled their return tickets as the universities have extended the break and because they are uncertain about the reopening date. So returnee students are incurring challenges in continuing their courses. Apparently, their parents are worried about sending them back to China during the coronavirus crisis. Suspension of airline services in China is also likely to increase flight costs.
Apart from thinking of Indian students as being the spear of a commodity market, it is important that the Chinese government to look into integrating Indian students into Chinese universities. The panic surrounding their parents should be cleared so that they feel their children can return to China in a safe environment to pursue their studies. These are short-term impacts on Indian students. In the future, due to the coronavirus outbreak, they might even consider China a less attractive and unsafe destination if these protective measures aren’t taken.
S. Irudaya Rajan is Professor at the Centre for Development Studies, Kerala. H. Arokkiaraj is a postdoctoral fellow at the Leibniz Science Campus, Eastern Europe-Global Area, Leipzig.