Agencies and language schools in China have advised of the impact of the novel coronavirus outbreak on their business, with counselling and lessons shifting online and organisations looking to defer bookings.
In the initial stages of the outbreak the Chinese government suspended outbound group travel and a number of national airlines halted or reduced services. Earlier this week, we reported that some destinations – including Australia, the USA and New Zealand – have suspended entry to those coming from or transiting through China.
In China itself some cities remain in lockdown, the Chinese New Year holiday period was extended, and restrictions on movement were introduced in an effort to contain the virus, effectively curtailing the face-to-face agency business.
The novel coronavirus has impacted on day-to-day business in China.
Jon Santangelo, Spokesperson for Chinese agency association BOSSA, told StudyTravel Magazine, “Agencies nationwide are conducting business online for the next one-to-two weeks, with counsellors consulting their students from home.” He added that BOSSA’s agent expo, the Beijing International Education Exhibition, has been postponed from March 19th to May 29th as a result of the situation.
Jack Fei , Manager at JM Education Group in Shenzhen, commented, “Because the coronavirus outbreak was during the Chinese spring festival, we have to give a notice of unlimited extension of holiday until the government notifies the company to reopen. Everything stops. The companies and the students are preparing for their next steps so as to minimise the loss when the coronavirus is gone.”
In terms of impact on students and bookings, Jack advised, “Most students started their study in January or they didn’t come back to China in the holiday. A few students were affected and had to cancel or change study plans; some students who plan to study in Australia are still waiting for the issue’s development, and are hoping to catch up with the March intake, subject to final information from the university or school.”
Jack said currently the focus was to minimise the students’ losses. “We hope in the near future that schools and universities will consider helping agents recover from the disaster.”
Ying Wu at Global Pathway advised that some winter camps for the UK have been cancelled. Looking ahead at future issues, she added, "IELTS cancelled all their China exams in February, we may face a shortening preparation time for university applications."
Chinese language schools in mainland China have also had to pause classes and temporarily change operations.
Jasmine Bian, President of Mandarin House , which has centres in Shanghai and Beijing, told StudyTravel Magazine that all physical classes have been suspended. “Our partners and students have been kind enough to let us defer their bookings, so we have had no cancellations so far.”
In terms of logistics, she said that staff have been working from home, staying motivated by regular remote meetings and training, and that online classes have been arranged upon request. “Teachers and students are happy with their e-learning programmes,” she said.
Max Hobbs, Marketing Manager at LTL Mandarin School , also present in Beijing and Shanghai, said, “Of course, there has been an instant impact on enquiries, which are normally around the peak in January for us. All we can do is follow government legislation and stay in contact with our students and potential students as much as possible to reassure everyone of the situation.
“Many are happy to postpone to another point in the year, many are also happy to move classes online, and a smaller percentage prefer to cancel, which we completely understand. Either way, we are trying to find a solution for every person, as every person is different.”
BOSSA spoke about its concerns over the treatment of Chinese students.
He continued, “Luckily for us, we also have a basis in Taipei (Taiwan) and a new one in Singapore, which allows us to appease people who are really against coming to the mainland.”
Another concern for Chinese agents is the welfare of students that are already overseas, advised Jon. “Several reports of verbal and physical attacks on Chinese international students are most disconcerting to BOSSA and its agents. Hosting schools and universities need to communicate awareness of challenges which may arise and offer subsequent supportive actions to their students."
This week, Universities UK and the UK Council for International Students (UKCISA) issued a joint statement expressing concern for students and stressing that any incidents of racsim will not be tolerated.
Jon continued, “Agents should be assured that their current students are safe and that prospective students will be given care and support in any crisis or challenge which affects them. BOSSA’s leadership is on high alert and in close contact with agent members on happenings abroad.”
Max reflected that the period of major disruption is also an opportunity. “For us, it’s all about communication and making sure we find a solution for every single current and prospective student. This is where top-class customer service really has a chance to shine through, and we hope to do just that.”
Jasmine added, “Things are under control, and we hope it will be over soon.”
By Matthew Knott