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Tuesday Oct 13 2020

Pakistani students studying in China desperate to return to their universities

People pass facial recognition camera-controlled gates to enter Peking University in Beijing as Chinese students gradually return to campuses after an outbreak of the coronavirus disease. — Reuters/Files

Pakistani students who had been pursuing their studies in China on Monday took to Twitter to express their frustration at being stranded for several months now in Pakistan and being unable to continue their education in a 'normal' manner.

As #TakeUsBackToSchool trended online, spoke to several students to inquire about the complications and problems they were facing.

Speaking to, Hammas, an undergraduate student at a university in Nanjing, said he had been stranded in Pakistan for the last eight months and was unaware of when he could return.

The student said it was "extremely difficult" for him to keep up with online classes due to time differences and connectivity issues. 

"Furthermore, some Chinese apps just do not work here," he explained.

Hammas said his university had not been responding to queries despite repeated attempts to reach them through various platforms, including emails and WeChat messages, etc.

The 22-year-old said he was more worried about recovering his educational documents, which he said were immensely valuable to him.

Likewise, Asadullah, a PhD student in public management in at a university in Shanghai, said he had been stranded in Pakistan for the past nine and a half months.

"I came back in late December to conduct some fieldwork in Pakistan and was supposed to return in January, but I decided to stay here till the coronavirus situation improved," he said, adding: "I was supposed to graduate this year but I couldn't go back."

Talking about classes being held online, he said: "It is a good system overall, but obviously the level of involvement and engagement is not the same as in-class lectures."

"The university has been in touch throughout and all my queries are responded well enough," he said. 

"[Sometimes] there are communication lapses, which lead to misunderstandings — but this is mostly for administration related issues."

Unfortunately for him, he had to let go of his belongings that he kept in a rented apartment off-campus as he could not afford the cost of housing any more.

As for his friends living on-campus, the university asked them to empty out their rooms within a certain period, which lead to some problems for them.

A PhD scholar enrolled at a Beijing university, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he was "deeply troubled" as he had been in Pakistan from February 1. He took one of the last flights coming back to the country.

“Initially, I was excited to be with my family and leaving my problems behind. But as time passes, happiness has started to fade away.”

The student and his wife — who is also pursuing a PhD degree in textile engineering at one of China's top universities — said he used to receive a stipend from the Chinese government that has now been suspended.

"They suspended the stipend in August and said that we could start receiving it once we return to China," he explained. 

"Meanwhile we are in a dilemma as we cannot get jobs here. Employers refuse to give us jobs as we cannot commit a time duration to them," he said.

"We are nowhere; we cannot go back. Meanwhile, we are going through immense financial difficulties here in Pakistan," he regretted.

The scholar said he had no hopes in the near future of his return to China.

“I was furious to see a message from our International School telling us: 'Please plan your life, we cannot help'," he said.

Talking about the Pakistan government's promise that it would arrange special flights for students enrolled in Chinese universities, he said that the initiative has made no headway.

Two other brothers, who declined to give their names and who are enrolled in undergraduate and postgraduate programs, said they had been stranded in Pakistan for the last nine months.

One of the students, talking about his online classes, said: "I always face connection problems because we use a Chinese app which does not work smoothly here. This is effecting our studies quite a lot."

The student said that his university administration has not responded to any of his queries since the time he came back to Pakistan.

On Twitter, user Areeb Fatima called on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor chairman to help the students and raise the issue with the Chinese authorities.

"Please raise our issue with Chinese authorities and speak on our behalf to allow us student visa," she said.

Another student said he was waiting for the last nine months to go back to China as he needed the university's facilities, like laboratories, to continue his studies.

"We have been waiting for the last nine months but it is useless. Please take notice because our future is in danger. We cannot take any more semesters online — we need labs and hospitality," he said.

The Chinese Ministry of Education (MoE) is reportedly hesitant to allow hundreds of thousands of foreign students back due to the fear of “imported” coronavirus infections. 

Beijing itself has so far been incredibly successful in containing the coronavirus through a strictly controlled and calibrated response. It may feel that allowing thousands of foreign students could imperil those successes and reverse the gains it has made so far.