Postgraduate student Ashley Du has been trapped in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou since the coronavirus outbreak escalated in late January, but she has not given up hope of starting the second semester of her master's degree in Australia.
Du, who is enrolled to study commerce at the University of Sydney, is one of about 200,000 Chinese with Australian student visas, more than half of whom Canberra says are stuck outside the country due to a ban on mainland travellers, including students.
"Right now, I am still planning on starting university at the end of February because I don't want to suspend studies for a whole semester," she said.
Du will be allowed to take online classes until March 13 - two weeks after the official February 24 semester start date - but says she is still prepared to pay rent for her two-room flat organised by student accommodation provider Belong, which has discounted prices for Chinese students.
Concerns about the global economic toll of the virus have grown following its spread from a seafood market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said it expected a sharp decline in China's trading activity, followed by a swift recovery. But it said the overall impact to global growth would likely be "mild".
This optimism, however, may not be enough to placate businesses such as Belong that depend on the world's second largest economy, especially if the virus outbreak continues and students feel shunned.
Universities worldwide, particularly in Chinese-favoured destinations like Britain, Australia and New Zealand, are now feeling the effects of the virus outbreak and so could ancillary service providers, like those involved in student accommodation.
In Australia, the international education sector is worth more than A$35 billion (US23.5 billion), just behind coal, iron ore and natural gas. On top of hefty private tuition fees, students also contribute to the economy through spending in retail, tourism, housing and travel.
Belong's unique business model - a "chaperon" accommodation service for Chinese students which also provides cultural training and language services - means its target market has been solely China.
But the coronavirus outbreak has triggered questions about an over-reliance on the country, and the company has kick-started marketing efforts in Southeast Asia and India.
"The coronavirus issue has highlighted the concentration risk in our current student base in that it is very heavily reliant on Chinese international students," said Jenny Jia, the director of Belong.
"Although we have a particular expertise in understanding, serving and looking after Chinese students, it has forced us to recognise that we need to quickly diversify our student body to other countries."
Jia said she had not seen panic among Chinese students, with many still booking or holding rooms in view of an eventual lifting of the travel ban.
However, she sees future repercussions for Australia and wants to stay ahead of the curve.
"There has been a certain amount of anger and frustration towards Australia for closing its doors," she said.
"Although we understand Australia's priority is to protect its citizens and to err on the side of caution, nevertheless Australia as a study and travel destination will likely take a reputational hit."
Although we understand Australia's priority is to protect its citizens and to err on the side of caution, nevertheless Australia as a study and travel destination will likely take a reputational hitJenny Jia
On Thursday, Australia extended its travel ban on all foreigners from mainland China to February 22, when it will likely be reviewed again.
The United States and New Zealand have also implemented student travel bans although Britain and Canada have not.
The dent to the international education sector in these countries could be extensive, with Chinese students making up the largest proportion of foreign students. The top five destinations for Chinese students are the US, Australia, Britain, Japan and Canada, according to Unesco.
While the virus outbreak has forced some companies to begin diversifying their business, others see it as only a temporary blip.
Singapore property group and student accommodation investor, Wee Hur, which has a portfolio of properties on the east coast of Australia, says the virus itself could provide some opportunities.
"In this case, though, we see the coronavirus situation as more of a situational risk rather than nationality risk," the company's chief executive Goh Wee Ping said.
"Therefore some of the immediate risk mitigation measures in response to this situation would be, for example, to maximise onshore marketing to fill up our buildings or to ensure maximum retention with Chinese students because they will now be more likely to want to stay in Australia rather than head home, extending their leases."
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