Foreign students studying in Beijing have gradually returned to their classrooms now that the World Health Organization has removed the Chinese capital from its travel advisory and its list of SARS-infected areas.
Classes in other Chinese cities, where SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) had a less serious effect than in Beijing, have been proceeding as normal.
Small numbers of students went back to their own countries but have returned to their classrooms in China, a Ministry of Education official told China Daily yesterday.
More than 85,000 foreign students have come to China this year for a variety of courses. They are studying at 406 universities on the Chinese mainland that are eligible to recruit foreign students. Some 90 per cent of these students are self-supporting, according to Chen Yinghui, an official in the ministry's Department of International Co-operation and Exchanges.
About one-third of these students returned to their home countries after Beijing was categorized as a SARS-infected area in mid-April. The remaining two-thirds stayed in China.
Chen said: "Fortunately, none of those who left China or those who stayed in the country have been infected by SARS or similar diseases."
In late March, the Ministry of Education called on universities to enhance epidemic prevention work among foreign students and help them do more physical exercise to safeguard their health.
Most universities invited health experts to give foreign students lectures on how to prevent SARS precaution. Many institutions prepared traditional Chinese medicines for students.
Many universities bought gauze masks and exercise equipment for foreign students, Chen said.
From April 12, some foreign students wanted to leave for their own countries and asked for their tuition fees to be returned.
Most universities repaid the fees to foreign students going home and won acclaim from the student body.
"Returning tuition fees to students did cause economic losses to some universities but, during the critical SARS period, what we care for most is the health and interests of students," said Chen.
The Ministry of Education and universities also helped foreign students apply for life insurance policies that cover SARS with the Ping'an Insurance Company. The company's policy guarantees medical expenses for foreign students.
At Beijing Normal University, foreign students were divided into several small groups, which would study in spacious, well-ventilated classrooms.
Peking University has held several parties for foreign students to enrich their campus life.
At Xi'an Jiaotong University in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, foreign students volunteered to donate 100 yuan (US$12) each to help the school fight against SARS.
Chen said: "The urgent preventive measures taken by government departments and universities played an effective role in warding off SARS attacks on foreign students.
"In the second half of the year, we will concentrate on long-term precautionary measures to protect foreign students and help protect them against any possible epidemics.
"We encourage more foreign students to study in China over the next few years," she said.
Although the SARS situation has made it difficult to forecast how many foreign students will come to China in the second half of this year, some universities have received good news.
Some 1,500 new foreign students have registered for the autumn term at Beijing Language and Culture University, which has the largest number of foreign students in China, according to Zheng Chengjun, deputy director of the university's Department of Foreign Students.
Although no exact figure is yet available, a "considerable" number of foreign students have expressed interest in applying to study at Beijing Normal University, said Lin Fan, who is in charge of foreign student affairs.
Over the past few years, the number of overseas students in China has continued to rise, building on two decades of the country's opening-up policy and accelerated by its accession in December 2001 to the World Trade Organization, according to Chen.
The latest statistics indicate that the Chinese mainland received a total of 85,829 students from 175 countries and regions last year.
Ninety-three per cent of those are self-supporting, up 42 percentage points on 2001.
Last year, 77 per cent of overseas students were from Asia, 10 per cent from the Americas, another 10 per cent from Europe, 2 per cent from Africa and 1 per cent from Oceania.
The Republic of Korea, Japan, the United States, Indonesia and Viet Nam are the top five countries and account for the majority of overseas students in China.
Chinese literature and traditional Chinese medicine are the most popular subjects for overseas students.
Last year, China awarded government scholarships to 6,074 students from 153 countries and regions, accounting for 7 per cent of the total number of overseas students.
Beijing ranks first in the number of foreign students, followed by Shanghai and Tianjin.
(China Daily July 3, 2003)