Officials welcome arriving students at Belfast International Airport on Saturday. (Photo: China Daily Global)
Three hundred and sixty nine Chinese students started their self-quarantine life in the campus of Queen's University Belfast, or QUB, after traveling from China to the United Kingdom by a flight chartered by the university on Saturday.
A mother who sent her daughter off from Beijing said she was "very grateful" for the charter flight.
She said: "We were worried when my child got the student visa because the pandemic makes international travel difficult and risky. Then we heard the news that QUB will arrange a charter flight. We were so happy. And the ticket price is fair enough."
Zhang Meifang, China's consul general in Belfast and Ian Greer, president and vice-chancellor of QUB, were at Belfast International Airport to welcome the arriving students.
"Affected by the global pandemic, studying abroad in this year is different from previous years," Zhang said in a welcome speech, adding that the Chinese government attaches great importance to QUB's charter flight plan.
"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education, the Civil Aviation Administration of China and other departments have worked closely with our consulate, to actively practice 'diplomacy for the people', to ensure everyone's safety and make their study overseas journey smooth," said Zhang.
According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, last year the number of students from China studying in UK higher education surpassed 120,000 for the first time, accounting for more than one in every three non-European Union students. The total number of Chinese students studying in the UK is now more than 220,000, Chinese government figures show.
These students contribute 4 billion pounds ($5.17 billion) to the UK's economy per year in tuition fees and other spending such as accommodation, a BBC report said.
The report also said since the pandemic began, UK universities have been worried about major financial losses if Chinese students withdraw from their courses in the new academic year in the fall, amid concern over high COVID-19 infection rates and a high death toll in the UK.
According to a forecast by the University of Manchester, cancellations can range from 12 percent to 61 percent, and "anxiety" over whether it is safe to travel to the UK outweighs other concerns.
"To alleviate anxiety and stress about traveling for the new academic year, Queen's was one of the first universities in the UK to put together a direct charter flight to bring our students directly to Belfast," vice-chancellor Greer said in his welcome message.
A one-way ticket for the QUB charter flight was 616 pounds ($796).
Students were required to take COVID-19 tests 48 hours before departure and needed to provide negative results to board the plane. After landing, they were transported directly from the airport to their campus and provided with quarantine accommodation.
Greer said the university has put in place a comprehensive range of measures, in line with public health guidelines, to ensure the campus is a safe place to live, work and study.
"Your teaching will be delivered by a connected learning approach. You will be taught face-to-face with the relevant social distancing and hygiene measures applied at all times, complemented by online classes when necessary," he told the students.
Discussions are believed to be ongoing for more British universities to charter flights from China, India and Africa to encourage international students to return in this academic year, several media outlets have reported.