Chinese international students strongarm universities


The aggression by Chinese international students at Australia’s universities continues to build.

In the wake of recent violence inflicted against Hong Kong students at the University of Queensland, as well as the widespread vandalism of Hong Kong Lennon boards across Australian university campuses, a Chinese student group has demanded the University of Tasmania remove pro-Hong Kong independence posters. From The ABC:

Pro-Hong Kong posters have been repeatedly torn down from the university’s Sandy Bay campus since they were put on display last week.

In a statement published online, the Tasmanian Chinese Students and Scholars Association expressed anger at the posters and stated its opposition to “any act splitting China”.

“… our student union has formally expressed strong dissatisfaction to the school about the campus insult to China and called on the school to build a clean and pure learning environment for students,” the statement, translated from Mandarin to English, said…

“… everyone has freedom of speech and we will respect different voices. However, freedom of speech does not mean malicious slander, exaggeration of facts and personal attacks.”

Australian National University Department of Pacific Affairs China expert Graeme Smith said the line urging the University of Tasmania to remove the posters was “chilling”.

“The implicit suggestion the university is responsible and should clean up these messages and effectively take them down so people can’t see them … just that line tells you they don’t get the freedom of expression thing,” Dr Smith said…

A University of Tasmania spokesman said the university was watching social media and maintaining contact with student groups and organisations, as well as other universities around Australia.

“[We] are encouraging everyone to approach the issue with respect for other members of the community, and respect for the university’s values,” the spokesman said…

Chinese students make up the bulk of the international student population at the University of Tasmania.

The institution worked hard to attract Chinese students to the state after the 2014 visit from Chinese president Xi Jinping.

In 2016, it announced it aimed to double its Chinese student population to about 2,000 people. There were about 60 students from Hong Kong in that year.

Three years later, there are about 500 Hong Kong international students at the University of Tasmania and more than 4,100 students from China.

As noted above, the University of Tasmania has become financially reliant on Chinese international students. The next chart from the Department of Education shows that international student enrolments at the University of Tasmania have grown dramatically over the past 15 years, from 1252 in 2002 to 6487 in 2017 – an increase of around 400% – with most of these students from mainland China:


The increase is even more dramatic across Australia, with university enrolments from China ballooning by 619% to 136,000 in the 15 years to 2019:


Chinese students make up around 40% of Australia’s $34 billion international student market. There are also many China-backed Confucius Institutes operating on university campuses, which are a fully funded subsidiary of China’s Ministry of Education. Their formal mission is to promote Chinese language and culture, and thus provide an uncritical view of Chinese society.

Having such a strong financial reliance on Chinese international students risks stifling freedom of expression.

There are potentially a hundred thousand Chinese students at Australian campuses that have sympathies with, and are closely monitored by, an authoritarian CCP regime. Such a deep concentration of Chinese students is likely already having a chilling impact on campus culture, as well as classroom discussions.


With the situation in Hong Kong likely to worsen, escalating conflicts at Australian universities seems inevitable. This will require stricter enforcement of democratic freedoms by our university administrators and governments.

About the author
Leith van Onselen is Chief Economist at the MB Fund and MB Super. He is also a co-founder of MacroBusiness. Leith has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs.