Coronavirus: Chinese students' dreams to study abroad are the next virus casualty

University students preparing for the National Postgraduate Entrance Exam at a library in Shenyang, China, on Nov 26, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - Chinese students' plans to study in foreign schools and universities are being interrupted after they lost their chance to sit key entrance exams amid the global struggle to contain the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

The College Board, which organises the standardised Scholastic Assessment Test, or SAT, for admission to colleges in the United States, cancelled the March 14 test for all registered students travelling from China to other locations for the exam, according to an e-mail sent to students and seen by Bloomberg. The test is administered in cities like Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore but not in mainland China.

Concerns around the virus and ongoing travel restrictions were the main reasons for this measure, according to the e-mail. The College Board did not immediately respond to requests for comment made outside of working hours.

Graduate school entry exams, GRE and GMAT, and English proficiency tests IELTS and TOEFL were also cancelled for March, China's National Education Examinations Authority said on Monday (Feb 17) - marking the second straight month of lost opportunity for test takers in China. The registration fees for all the tests will be refunded.

Missing deadlines

With the ongoing cancellations, the risk is rising that Chinese students may miss deadlines to apply to top universities across the world.

A drop in the intake of Chinese students will hurt the revenue of educational institutions, especially those in the US, Britain and Australia, whose Chinese student body have grown rapidly in recent years.

Students from China, the largest source of foreign students in the US, had a US$22 billion (S$30.6 billion) impact on the American economy last year, despite the two-year trade war.

Applications to Britain have also risen while the number of Chinese students to Australia has doubled since the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic 17 years ago.

The coronavirus outbreak has already killed more than 1,800 people, infected over 72,000 in China and spread to two dozen nations.

It has also disrupted global supply chains, stranded travellers on cruise ships and restricted the movements of millions of Chinese people. More than 50 countries and territories have so far imposed travel restrictions and tightened visa requirements for those travelling from China.

The cancellation, however, gives students more time to prepare, said Ms Julia Gooding, a Shanghai-based director at consultancy BE Education.

Students can still make it for the start of the autumn session at universities if the next round of exams are conducted on May 2 as per the schedule, she said.

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