Among anecdotal replies, one student said: “When the government announced the travel and study warnings, I couldn’t convince my parents that things aren’t that bad in Australia. They listened to the government and believed the official voices.”
Professor Zhang said the public in Australia did not realise the extent to which official warnings get currency in social media which has a widespread trickle-down effect.
“I can see hostility in social media towards Australia is increasing.”
Less valuable degrees
Backing up her findings, 31.9 per cent of students who were waiting to return to study in Australia said general media reports of cases of discrimination and abuse of Chinese people would be critical to their decision about returning.
Among students who had never been to Australia, 37.6 per cent said such reports were critical.
A longer-term threat was Beijing might take advantage of the perception that the value of Australian degrees was falling.
One in five Chinese students who had studied here said Australian degrees were not competitive in China with degrees from top-tier Chinese universities.
And 16 per cent said Australian degrees were less “valuable” compared with degrees from other English-speaking countries, especially the US and Britain.
“Half the Chinese students in Australia are doing one-year master’s programs. But the equivalent master’s degree in China takes three years and it’s very hard to get into those programs,” Professor Zhang said.
“I can see the perceived value of Australian degrees in the China market is not positive.
“What if Beijing puts a question mark against these degrees, especially the one-year master’s?
Professor Zhang said there were relatively few prominent Chinese people with Australian degrees, while the US and Britain had produced large numbers of successful returnees who had become household names in China.
“Role models are very important. They are a benchmark. I can see many Australian-trained Chinese in good middle-level Chinese jobs. But not many who are very high profile.”
She said Australian universities should aim for a smaller cohort of students who achieved at a high level.
“I don’t give my students a pass simply because they are paying a fee. The reality is that a low entry bar to university cannot do Australia any good.”