Australian universities have established pop-up study hubs in China offering face-to-face engagement for students in a bid to keep them absorbed in their studies.
The centres are helping the universities maintain contact with Chinese students at a time when local authorities are reportedly discouraging them from coming to Australia.
The University of NSW (UNSW), University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Monash University in Melbourne and the Australian National University in Canberra are among those that have opened facilities in China to give their students a place where they can study with their peers in a university setting.
UNSW opened a China Learning Centre in Shanghai this week after establishing one in Yixing City last year.
A UNSW spokeswoman said 100 science and engineering students were attending in Yixing and another 50 students from non-STEM disciplines are starting in Shanghai.
“Both centres are designed for students to build a sense of community, and work on collaborative projects while international borders remain closed,” the spokeswoman said.
The University of Sydney and Study Group Australia have set up in Shanghai for Chinese students enrolled in the University of Sydney Foundation Program.
Study Group Australia managing director Alex Chevrolle said students studying online in China were keen for more opportunities for interaction.
“Our online teaching and learning allows students to experience and engage with course content and lecturers, and our new centre in Shanghai means students can also experience invaluable face-to-face engagement with peers to work on course work, assignments and projects,” he said.
Mr Chevrolle said the Shanghai centre allowed 60 students at a time to study virtually in a campus environment under the supervision of an on-site manager. The centre provided high speed internet, large screens and audiovisual technology.
Students were also provided with other support services including welfare, administration, accommodation, English language and social activities. The centre was housed in a facility with a library, gym and canteen.
UTS said its offshore learning centres (OLCs) provide a physical learning space and extra support for course work students enrolled at UTS who are studying remotely in China and Vietnam. A UTS spokeswoman said about 700 students have attended the centres which opened last year on the campuses of Chinese university partners in Qinhuangdao, Chongqing and Nanjing.
“Our students live on campus at the OLC host university, study in physical groups or independently at their will, and obtain support for both academic and non-academic aspects of learning,” the spokeswoman said.
“OLC students use UTS’s online learning portals to take their UTS classes, consistent with their peers studying remotely in Australia and in other overseas locations.”
Venice Yun from IDP Connect which is partnering with universities to provide the pop-up centres said they had provided an opportunity for students to gather locally in China and “feel more connected to their institution and studies, while also using the space for social gatherings”. “The hubs show a positive attitude from Australian institutions to provide additional solutions and services to those who are banned by the travel restrictions,” she said.
Monash University said it offers programs in Suzhou, China. A Monash spokeswoman said it opened a joint graduate school, partnered with China-based Southeast University, in November.
“Feedback from these students has been very positive,” the spokeswoman said.
“In China, this will continue in 2021 until borders in Australia have opened. Once borders are opened these students can transfer to Australia when it is safe to do so.
“We are also looking at using our other international campuses in Prato, Jakarta and Malaysia to offer similar on campus options in the future.”
An ANU spokesman said more than 100 students have regularly used the Shanghai hub since it opened last year. Up to 300 students have attended events including an Australian-themed barbecue and Australian Rules football training.
“ANU has just doubled the space for the hub in anticipation of increased demand and use in 2021,” the spokesman said.
UNSW student Lamping Yi is in her first year of postgraduate studies in environmental engineering. She found out about the study hub on a Chinese WeChat site.
“My family was persuading me to give up my study because the students staying in China have not been able to return to Australia to have the face-to-face class due to the COVID-19 and the online learning would have an influence on the quality and effectiveness of teaching and studying,” she said.
“When I found this study hub I felt very happy and excited to have an opportunity to study and communicate with students and teachers in the classroom during this special period. And my family gradually accepted this way.”
Ms Yi said she has enjoyed discussing course material face-to-face with other students.
“The efficiency of this kind of communicating is much better than online talking. Sometimes I could get inspiration or ideas when communicating with the students who have different majors with me … I have not been to Australia since I started my postgraduate study program. I really want to get back to Australia to continue my further study in the classroom and also experience the life and rich culture in Australia.”