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ISLAMABAD: More than a year after the coronavirus pandemic spread, Pakistani students say they fear losing their qualifications from Chinese universities as thousands remain stuck at home, unable to return to classes despite government assurances of ongoing negotiations with Beijing.

About 28,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in Chinese educational institutions, most of whom have been stuck in Pakistan since China suspended entry for foreign nationals in late March 2020 to stem the spread of COVID-19.

For more than a year, the Pakistani government says it is still in contact with the Chinese authorities to help students return to their colleges and universities, but some of them are on the verge of losing hope.

“We are desperate and afraid that our money and time are wasted and our future is on the line,” Arosa Khan, a Karachi-based student who has completed two years of medicine in China, told Arab News on Saturday.

“We are about 7,000 medical students in China, more than 85 percent of them are now stuck in Pakistan due to the travel ban,” she said, expressing concern that they would not be able to become good doctors if they could not practice in university hospitals and clinical laboratories.

With Pakistan not recognizing medical degrees from online courses – which Chinese institutes offer to foreign students due to the travel ban – Khan worries that years of schooling and thousands of dollars spent on education may be in vain.

“It is not our fault that we had to attend virtual classes. The majority of these medical students are self-financing as their families have spent around 5 million rupees ($28000).” “They are under severe stress and become depressed due to the uncertainty hovering over their future.”

The concerns of medical students are shared by those taking engineering courses.

Adam Ali, of Attock, who is pursuing a degree in artificial intelligence at a Chinese university, said he has exhausted all avenues of help.

We’ve met with everyone in the State Department, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Education and all the other officials, but nothing happened despite the long allegations. When we wrote to the Pakistani Embassy in China, they didn’t even reply to our emails.

“When this travel ban was imposed and we started studying online, the State Department assured us at the time that we would be able to return to China with charter flights for the next semester by the end of July 2020. But nothing happened.”

Another engineering student, Jamal Nasir, from Sialkot, said he quit his job to pursue a master’s degree at a Chinese university scholarship, but with the introduction of online classes, that facility has been discontinued.

“I had a good job but I left it to pursue a master’s degree on a scholarship, which includes a monthly stipend. After the online lessons resumed, they stopped the salary as well, which created a lot of financial problems.” “Now I don’t have a job nor (I) continue my studies because of the travel ban.”

Since students from some other countries, including South Korea, were allowed to return to Chinese universities in August 2020 as part of intergovernmental deals, Nasir asked why the Pakistanis could not have followed suit.

“If they want, they can impose quarantines and other standard restrictions but at least allow vocational certificate students to take physical classes,” he said.

The Pakistani government says it is trying to solve the problem.

“The issue was discussed at various levels with the Chinese authorities in both Beijing and Islamabad,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Asim Iftikhar told Arab News.

“We are also exploring the possibility of handling issues of research, laboratory work, scholarships, etc. with relevant Pakistani and Chinese authorities and institutions,” he said. “We are following up on the matter and constantly communicating with the Chinese side at all levels.”

The Chinese embassy in Islamabad told Arab News that it “has nothing to comment on at the moment.”


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