First student flight arrives from China - second charter to follow next month

Ballycastle woman Pamela Forsythe alongside the Qatar Airlines Boeing 777 which brought 400 international students to Queen's University
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE first 400 international students bound for the north's two main universities have touched down in Belfast and have been taken into quarantine ahead of the new term.

And it has emerged that a second flight, which is again fully booked, will arrive on October 3 carrying another cohort of mainly Chinese under-graduates.

As revealed by the Irish News in July, Queen's University took the unprecedented step of chartering the planes at a cost of around £600,000 each to bring students directly from China.

It came amid fears that a drastic loss of income from its international student intake would leave a burgeoning hole in its budget running into millions of pounds.

A Qatar Airlines Boeing 777-300ER flight from Beijing, arriving via Doha, landed at Belfast International on Saturday at lunchtime.

The flight was captained by Ballycastle-born Pamela Forsythe, a past pupil of Dalriada Grammar, who has been with the airline for the last decade.

When confirming in July that it had taken the unusual step of arranging the direct charter flight, a spokesman for Queen's University said: "We appreciate international travel can be difficult to arrange at the moment and want to make it as easy as possible for students to travel to Belfast for the start of the next academic year."

The university subsidised the cost of the flight so it does not cost students more than a normal commercial flight (each was charged £616).

The number of Chinese/Hong Kong students at Queen's has grown by around a third in the last five years and currently stands at more than 1,000.

It is easily Queens' biggest market for foreign students, making up 47 per cent of its overseas intake, ahead of South East Asia (Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia) at 18 per cent, the Americas at 12 per cent, South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh) at 11 per cent and the Middle East/Africa (10 per cent).

As previously revealed, tuition fees can be as much as 10 times that of an under-graduate from Northern Ireland.

For example, working towards five years towards a medical degree would cost a Belfast student £4,395 a year, but for an international student that rises to £41,850, or nearly £210,000 over the full term of the course.

Nearly 120,000 students from China currently study at UK universities, with their tuition fees a key source of income.

But given the ongoing Covid pandemic, academics fear international enrolments at many institutions could fall by between 50 per cent and 80 per cent, which will put university finances under serious pressure.

Queen’s has had links with China since the 1850s and has been developing strategic partnerships with the region for decades, including one with Shenzhen University.

In the past decade it has invested more than £10 million in China-related research in areas such as sustainable energy, information technology, food security and cancer research.

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