Amid a pandemic wherein classes are mainly offered online and travel restrictions may prohibit some students from studying in Canada, a new survey conducted by Easy Group has examined the perspectives of Chinese international students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey looked at their opinions on a number of topics, including online learning, tuition reduction, mental health, and sinophobic — anti-Chinese — sentiment.

Chinese international students make up a significant 60 per cent of U of T’s international student population. International students as a whole account for 30 per cent of the university’s revenue.

Easy Group is an education company founded by a U of T alum. The survey was conducted in summer 2020 and consisted of 389 responses from Chinese international students who were intending to enrol in Canadian universities for the first time.

Survey findings

The survey results found that nearly 90 per cent of surveyed Chinese international students still planned to enrol in Canadian universities, with the remaining seven per cent attempting to defer their admission, and three per cent not planning to enrol at all.

However, 57 per cent of the respondents will not move to Canada this fall, meaning that remote learning will be their only choice.

Despite being a common option for international students, remote learning does not seem to be popular among respondents. Nearly 70 per cent of Chinese students felt negatively about online learning.

Among different programs, humanities students were the most open to online classes. “I think it is safe to assume that online learning poses additional anxieties for foreign students, especially non-native-English speakers,” wrote Scott Moskowitz, who designed the survey, in an email to The Varsity.

The vast majority of respondents felt that tuition should be reduced given the situation. However, most don’t think it is necessary to cut tuition down significantly. “This suggests Chinese students’ flexibility and commitment to Canadian education in the face of changing circumstances,” reads the report.

Still, Moskowitz advised that students would not appreciate universities taking this commitment for granted. Instead, he commented that international students “want to feel like the university welcomes them as an integral part of the community.”

The report also mentions certain disadvantages for Chinese students, particularly due to drastic differences in the education systems of China and Canada. Canadian education typically involves more holistic components such as extracurricular activities and community involvement.

Students from China may not understand that these components are part of Canadian university life until they experience it themselves. “But if they are now attending school without ever having set foot on campus… they won’t know exactly what they are missing,” wrote Moskowitz.

Jacky Zhang, founder of Easy Group, believes that for Chinese international students to succeed, understanding the options available to them and learning to pursue their interests are the keys to closing the gap between them and Canadian campus life.

Another challenge for Chinese students is accessing mental health resources. The report points out that Chinese students are from a culture where seeking mental health support may be stigmatized. According to the report, “this finding speaks to a need for special cultural sensitivity and awareness on the part of universities in allocating mental health resources and shaping attendant communications.”

Sinophobic sentiment

With the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians of Chinese or Asian descent have been experiencing an increasing amount of racism, something that is on the minds of Chinese international students. Around 60 per cent of the respondents do not feel positive about enrolling in Canadian universities as such sinophobia continues to rise.

Referencing the rocky relationship between the US and China, Oliver Zhang, a fourth-year Rotman student, wrote that he “[worries] that this anti-China attitude will spread to Canada.”

Still, a large number of Chinese international students remain optimistic. This result, in Moskowitz’s opinion, shows that Canada might have a comparative advantage in attracting Chinese students. “They may not feel that [sinophobia] is on the rise as much in Canada as compared to other locations in the world.”

Editor’s Note (September 14): This article was updated to correct that Easy Group is an education company.