Concerns have been raised across Australia regarding China’s impact on higher education following the worsened relations between the two countries.
According to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report published most recently named “They Don’t Understand the Fear We Have”, the Chinese government and its supporters have monitored, harassed, and intimidated the pro-democracy students from China living in Australia, leaving Australian universities unable to protect the academic freedom of students, Erudera.com reports.
“Pro-democracy students from mainland China and Hong Kong experience direct harassment and intimidation from Chinese classmates—including threats of physical violence, being reported on to Chinese authorities back home, being doxed online, or threatened with doxing,” the report said.
The Chinese student Chen Yun who is pursuing studies at the University of Melbourne said that she started to receive emails asking her to be careful after she posted on social media about the push for democratic reforms in China.
“I thought I could talk about whatever I want after coming here. I thought I could show my support for democracy, but I didn’t expect I actually don’t have that freedom,” Yun told VOA Mandarin and asked to use a pseudonym in order to avoid any possible confrontation with the Chinese government.
According to the HRW report, the Chinese embassy and its consulates across Australia have called on students to report on activities by classmates that could threaten China’s national security.
“It was really heartbreaking how alone these students were and how vulnerable they are so far from home and feeling this lack of protection from the university,” Australian researcher for Human Rights Watch and the report’s author Sophie McNeill had said earlier.
Australia’s Department of Education, Skills, and Employment (DESE) said that 150,000 students from China are studying in Australia as of April this year, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all international students in the country.
62 percent of Chinese students returned to China amid the pandemic and were obliged to pursue online lessons, which according to HRW, was challenging for many universities as the course material planned for Australian campuses could be accessed by students behind the ‘Great Firewall’ of China.
Earlier this year, a former secretary at the Chinese Consulate in Sydney, Chen Yonglin, who turned whistleblower after defecting to Australia, claimed that China is trying to control its international students enrolled at universities across Scotland through student associations within the country’s universities.