Recently returned Chinese international students are choosing to continue their studies online, over concerns about their level of in-person English proficiency. This is despite the Chinese Government's announcement in January it would no longer recognise foreign qualifications completed virtually.
Recently returned Chinese international students are choosing to continue their studies online, over concerns about their level of in-person English proficiency.
This is despite the Chinese Government's announcement in January it would no longer recognise foreign qualifications completed virtually.
More than 40,000 Chinese students previously studying remotely rushed back to Australia before the start of Semester 1, with 11,000 returning to Victorian universities.
Although they are physically back 'on campus', many feel online classes remain a necessity.
"We think that it's quite hard for us to have class in the classroom, since our English listening skills are not very high, and we can't really understand what the professors talk about in class," said Nora Wu, a second-year Masters student.
Lack of confidence in their English skills has left many dependent on online resources such as Otter.ai, a real-time English-to-Chinese translation program.
"I'm really scared the teachers will ask me questions, since it's very possible that I can't understand the questions I will be asked," said Sofie Ma, another postgraduate student.
The University of Melbourne did not directly respond to questions over whether it was aware many Chinese international students were choosing to remain online.
"In the last few weeks we have seen a wonderful vibrancy on campus," the University spokesperson stated.
"This is consistent with our active encouragement of all students to participate in all that our campus life has to offer."
But as dual-delivery remains an option for some graduate programs, some Chinese international students say they've chosen online learning because it allows them to interact with more classmates of a similar language proficiency.
"The problem [with in-person classes] is, most of the time we can't understand what the local students talk about in the group discussion," Ma said.
Experts say the past few years of remote learning have exacerbated these anxieties over language ability for the international cohort.
“Their English level may not have met the requirements originally, and after a year of remote learning, it is definitely hard for them to participate in the physical classes,” said Yu Cheng, an English-language teacher from China’s Zhi ke (Intelligence Education) language agency.
"The fact is that language proficiency is not static," said Sanskar Agarwal, University of Melbourne Student Union International (UMSU International) President.
"What happens is a lot of international students ... [have] mingled just with people from the same cultural background, and they prefer to speak in their mother tongue, and that actually gets [proficiency] down."
The University has maintained "extensive" English-language support is offered through its Academic Skills programs.
But UMSU International argued student requests for subtitles in recorded lectures, and better in-class assistance, were being ignored by Academic Skills.
"Apparently [they] don't really focus on this part of the academic stuff," said Shea Law, UMSU International's Education and Welfare Officer.
In response to student concerns, China’s Service Centre for Scholarly Exchange (CSCSE) — the government body responsible for processing overseas qualifications — clarified students would only be permitted to take online classes if they could provide evidence in-person lessons were full.
"Overseas credentials obtained with studies continued to be completed through remote learning... will not be evaluated," the Centre stated.
But those continuing to take classes online say the CSCSE has no way of confirming whether attendance was physical or remote.
"Our transcripts don't show whether we took our subjects online or in-person, so as long as we have our flight departure record, they [the CSCSE] won't know," explained Wu.
Many are waiting until they feel more confident in their English skills, or until online learning is no longer an option, before returning to the physical classroom.
"I am scared my degree might not be recognised, but I don’t believe it will actually happen," said Ma.