Coronavirus: how likely are international university students to choose Australia over the UK, US and Canada?



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Gavin Moodie, RMIT University

Australian universities are suffering revenue and job losses due to the current and projected loss of international students. A Mitchell Institute report has estimated the sector may lose up to A$19 billion in the next three years, while modelling from Universities Australia shows more than 20,000 jobs are at risk over six months, and more after that.

On April 3, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said international students in Australia could return home if they could not support themselves. Commentators feared such a flippant attitude would cause Australia to lose its world class reputation if it didn’t come to the aid of international students.

Months of tension with China (the biggest source of Australian university international students, at a third of the total) threatened to further jeopardise our international standing.

On Monday, the Australian government announced it will restart granting international student visas and allow current students to count online study while overseas in a push to restart international education.

But how do we compare with some of Australia’s largest competitors?

Closed campuses

Australia imposed a ban on travel from China on February 1, stranding an estimated 87,000 students abroad who were due to start their academic year in Australia in March.

By that time it was the middle of the second, or winter, semester for Australia’s big English language competitors in the northern hemisphere: the USA, UK and Canada. Most of these countries’ international students stayed to complete their semester, so universities did not suffer an immediate fall in revenue.

But universities in these countries did incur substantial additional costs as many completed the semester by transferring teaching online at short notice.




Read more:
Without international students, Australia’s universities will downsize – and some might collapse altogether


While online education meets similar standards to campus-based education, students prefer face-to-face learning. This is particularly true for international students, who see immersion in a different culture as one of the main benefits of studying overseas.

In May, many US and UK universities announced bullish plans to teach their first semester in autumn, starting in September, face-to-face (or mask-to-mask). There were various provisions for plexiglass, physical distancing, masks and regular testing.

But even partial campus reopening plans were never credible in the US when they were announced. Still, many universities in the competitor countries sought to maximise international enrolments by maintaining at least a substantial part of their campuses would be open by September.

The US

US universities no longer seem to be nearly as strong competitors for international students. While the number of new COVID-19 cases has bumpily fallen in Australia, Canada and the UK, they have been increasing in the US.

When it became clear US universities could not responsibly open their campuses, they started reversing their announcements of opening fully in September.

Princeton University. It’s unlikely many US universities will be able to offer full on-campus education in their first autumn semester.
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By July 20 some 53% of 1,215 US universities surveyed still planned to teach in person in September, 11% planned online education, 32% planned a mix of online and in person education, and 4% were considering a range of scenarios or had not yet decided their education mode.

US President Donald Trump sought to pressure universities to open fully by making studying at least partly on campus a condition of international students’ visas. He soon reversed that order, but may issue an alternative seeking the same effect.

US attractiveness as an international study destination is likely to be further reduced by the instability in universities’ plans, the uncertainty of federal immigration conditions, and continuing restrictions on entry from China and elsewhere.

The United Kingdom

Australian universities are in a much more similar position to UK universities, which are long time and powerful rivals for international students. They are expecting to lose substantially from COVID-19’s suppression of international enrolments.

Unlike Australia, the UK government has granted universities access to government-backed support such as a job retention scheme which includes short-term contracts, and business loan support.




Read more:
Why is the Australian government letting universities suffer?


The UK government has also brought forward teaching payments and block research grants, and increased funds for students in financial difficulty.

Unlike Australia, the UK does not impose international travel restrictions but requires entrants from most countries including China and India to self-isolate for a fortnight after entry. It will therefore remain a more attractive destination for new students until Australia lifts or at least relaxes its travel restrictions.

Canada

Canadian universities and colleges have some distinct advantages over their competitors for international students. They enjoy considerable financial and other support from their national and provincial governments.

While Canada’s average proportion of new COVID-19 cases is similar to Australia’s and the UK’s, these are concentrated in the biggest cities of Toronto, Montreal and their environs. The Atlantic provinces have Tasmanian levels of COVID-19 cases, and some of their universities attract very high proportions of international students.

The University of Toronto. Canada’s universities have received more support from their government than Australia’s.
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Canada’s biggest competitive disadvantage is that while it will admit returning international students, it currently is not admitting new students for the foreseeable future.

The Canadian government will grant permits to international students who study online from abroad, and like Australia this will count towards their eligibility for a post-graduation work permit. The government has also introduced a temporary two-stage approval process for international students to expedite their approval to enter to study on campus when this is permitted.




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Interactive: international students make up more than 30% of population in some Australian suburbs


But Canada is not likely to be a desirable destination for new international students until the government and then institutions can give a firm timetable and clear plans for studying on campus.

So, what should Australia do?

To remain competitive compared to the UK, Australian universities should keep prospective students updated on the issues that affect their study decisions such as entry requirements, start dates, and study and accommodation conditions. This communication should be targeted towards education agents and their clients, and be specific to individual students.

Few students and their parents are convinced about the value and quality of online education. And they fear much of the benefit of immersion in an English speaking university environment would be lost if spatial distancing required social distancing.

Australian universities will have to be as clear as they can about the benefits of the study and living conditions students are likely to experience here.The Conversation

Gavin Moodie, Adjunct professor, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Students in China heed their government’s warnings against studying in Australia – less than half plan to come back



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Marina Yue Zhang, Swinburne University of Technology

Only 40% of students in China who previously intended to study overseas still plan to, while just under 50% of those who had studied overseas plan to return to their study after the borders reopen.

These are results from our unpublished survey of 1,012 students we conducted in China between June 5 and 15. We asked them whether they would continue with their plan to study abroad post COVID-19.

These findings are not surprising. Due to growing tensions between China and the West – even before COVID-19 – middle-class parents in China had become increasingly concerned about the safety of, and possible discrimination against, their children abroad, including in the US and Australia.

The pandemic seems to have accelerated this trend.

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What students say about studying in Australia

Of the 1,012 students we surveyed, 404 had registered to study abroad in the next three years (in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore) and 608 had been studying overseas (including in Australia, US, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Japan) before COVID-19 .

In the questionnaire, we presented interviewees with considerations and asked them to nominate which ones would influence their decision about whether to study in Australia after COVID-19, as well as in other countries.




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‘I love Australia’: 3 things international students want Australians to know


The first group (group A) includes 304 students who had studied in Australia but who were not able to return due to travel restrictions.

Of these, 50% were undergraduates, 42% graduates, 5% doctoral students, and 3% vocational education or high school students.

The second group (group B) includes students who had never studied abroad before but had registered their intention to in the next three years, including in Australia, before COVID-19.

The second group also answered Australia-specific questions.



Not many students in either group considered issues such as more expensive air travel, less freedom in China and online lectures as critical factors influencing their decision to study in Australia.

But the two groups reacted to some factors quite differently. The students who had studied in Australia before considered the following factors as more critical to their decision:

  • returnees with Australian degrees are not more competitive in China’s job market compared to graduates from top-tier universities in China

  • life is more convenient, safe and easier at home and I don’t want to go abroad to endure the hardship as a foreign student

  • improved political stability and economic prospects in China

  • less of a chance of landing a good job with an Australian degree in China

  • no need to go abroad if lectures are delivered online.

The group of students who hadn’t yet studied in Australia but planned to, considered the following factors as critical:

  • media reported cases of Chinese being “discriminated against” or “abused” in Australia

  • deterioration in Sino-Australia relations

  • not many outstanding returnees from Australia are visible in the media to represent the success of Australian education

  • Australian universities lowered the entry standard for foreign students due to COVID-19

  • Australian degrees are perceived to be less valuable compared to degrees from other English-speaking countries, especially the US and the UK, by HR personnel in China.

What the students said

Not surprisingly, both groups considered the Chinese government’s warnings against visiting, or studying in, Australia important. A decision to study and live abroad is often made by the whole family in China. Official voices weigh significantly in such decisions.

A student who had done some of her master degree in a Melbourne university said:

After the Chinese New Year, Australian borders were closed to Chinese students due to COVID-19. Direct travel was not allowed. So I travelled to Thailand and spent 14 days in a small hotel in Bangkok before I landed in Melbourne. I had to be self-quarantined for 14 days in my rented room.

Then I found all lectures were moved online and the situation of COVID-19 became serious in Melbourne. The PM urged international students to go home. My parents were so worried. They paid for an over-priced air ticket and a quarantine-hotel in Shanghai for me for 14 days before I could go back to my hometown.

When the [Chinese] government announced the travel and study warnings, I couldn’t convince my parents that things aren’t that bad in Australia. They listened to the government and believed the ‘official voices’ rather than their own daughter.

There have been cases (though isolated ones) of Asians or Chinese people being bullied in Australia due to COVID-19. Unfortunately, social media in China often distorts such cases and amplifies the (mis)perceptions. And the tensions between China and Australia have enhanced these negative perceptions.

Sending their children abroad was once a privilege for elites with intellectual, economic or political power in China. But this is now quite common among middle-class Chinese families.

Chinese families spend a large amount of money on their children’s education. Better opportunities (either in the host country or on returning home) after study abroad is an underlining reason Chinese families invest in their children.




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COVID-19 increases risk to international students’ mental health. Australia urgently needs to step up


Australia has attracted many Chinese students in recent decades. But if Chinese students with Australian degrees are less appreciated or less competitive compared to those who study in other countries or in local universities, families will look for other options.

A Chinese student who had been studying at a Sydney university told us:

We are the clients and the degrees are a commodity; we pay for our degrees. What if the commodity loses its value? The clients will surely walk away.

COVID-19 has had a negative impact on the number of Chinese students likely to study in Australia. But the downward trend started way before the pandemic.

Australian universities need to adjust their strategies for a future that will not only deliver value for Chinese students, but also strengthen a positive perception about this value.The Conversation

Marina Yue Zhang, Associate Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus and university reforms put at risk Australia’s research gains of the last 15 years



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Andrew Norton, Australian National University

Education minister Dan Tehan will be meeting with university vice-chancellors to devise a new way of funding university research. They will have plenty to talk about.

Australia’s universities have been remarkably successful in building their research output. But there are cracks in the funding foundations of that success, which are being exposed by the revenue shock of COVID-19 and the minister’s reforms announced this month, which would pay for new student places with money currently spent on research.

I estimate the gap in funding that needs to be filled to maintain our current research output at around $4.7 billion.

The funding foundations crumble

The timing of Dan Tehan’s higher education reform package could not have been worse for the university research sector.

The vulnerability created by universities’ reliance on international students has been brutally revealed this year. Travel bans prevent international students arriving in Australia and the COVID-19 recession undermines their capacity to pay tuition fees.




Read more:
Australian universities could lose $19 billion in the next 3 years. Our economy will suffer with them


Profits from domestic and international students are the only way universities can finance research on the current scale, with more than A$12 billion spent in 2018.

Based on a Deloitte Access Economics analysis of teaching costs, universities make a surplus of about A$1.3 billion on domestic students. Universities use much of this surplus to fund research.

Tehan’s reform package seeks to align the total teaching funding rates for each Commonwealth supported student – the combined tuition subsidy and student contribution – with the teaching and scholarship costs identified in the Deloitte analysis.

On 2018 enrolment numbers, revenue losses for universities for Commonwealth supported students would total around $750 million with this realignment. With only teaching costs funded, universities will have little or no surplus from their teaching to spend on research.




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The government is making ‘job-ready’ degrees cheaper for students – but cutting funding to the same courses


International student profits are larger than domestic – at around $4 billion. Much of this money is spent on research too, and much of this is at risk. The recession will also reduce how much industry partners and philanthropists can contribute to university research.

Australia’s Chief Scientist estimates 7,700 research jobs are at risk from COVID-19 factors alone. Unless the Commonwealth intervenes with a new research funding policy, its recent announcements will trigger further significant research job losses.

Combined teaching and research academic jobs will decline

Although less research employment will be available, the additional domestic students financed by redirecting research funding will generate teaching work.

More students is a good thing in itself, as the COVID-19 recession will generate more demand for higher education.

But this reallocation between research and teaching will exacerbate a major structural problem in the academic labour market. Although most academics want teaching and research, or research-only roles, over the last 30 years Commonwealth teaching and research funding has separated.

After the latest Tehan reforms, funding for the two activities will be based on entirely different criteria and put on very different growth trajectories.

An academic employment model that assumes the same people teach and research was kept alive by funding surpluses on domestic, and especially international, students. With both these surpluses being hit hard, the funding logic is that a trend towards more specialised academic staff will have to accelerate.

We can expect academic morale to fall and industrial action to rise as university workforces resist this change.




Read more:
More than 10,000 job losses, billions in lost revenue: coronavirus will hit Australia’s research capacity harder than the GFC


The funding squeeze will also undermine the current system of Commonwealth research funding. This funding is allocated in two main ways. In part, it comes from competitive project grant funding, largely from the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Research Council.

Academic prestige is attached to winning these grants, but the money allocated does not cover the project’s costs. Typically, universities pay the salaries of the lead researchers and general costs, such as laboratories and libraries.

Universities are partly compensated for those expenses through research block grants, which are awarded based on previous academic performance, including in winning competitive grants. But because block grants do not cover all competitive project grant costs, the system has relied on discretionary revenue, much of it from students, to work. It will need a major rethink if teaching becomes much less profitable.

The stakes are high

University spending on research (which was over $12 billion in 2018), has nearly tripled since 2000 in real terms.

Direct government spending on research increased this century, but not by nearly enough to finance this huge expansion in outlays. In 2018, the Commonwealth government’s main research funding programs contributed A$3.7 billion.

An additional $600 million came from other Commonwealth sources such as government department contracts for specific pieces of research.

In addition to this Commonwealth money, universities received another $1.9 billion in earmarked research funding from state, territory and other (national) governments, donations, and industry.

These research-specific sources still leave billions of dollars in research spending without a clear source of finance. Universities have investment earnings, profits on commercial operations and other revenue sources they can invest in research.

But these cannot possibly cover the estimated $4.7 billion gap between research revenue and spending.

With lower profits on teaching, this gap cannot be filled. Research spending will have to be reduced by billions of dollars.

We are at a turning point in Australian higher education. The research gains of the last fifteen years are at risk of being reversed. The minister’s meeting with vice-chancellors has very high stakes.The Conversation

Andrew Norton, Professor in the Practice of Higher Education Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How will the class of COVID-19 get into university? Using year 11 results is only part of the answer



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Jen Jackson, Victoria University and Sarah Pilcher, Victoria University

Several Australian universities (Australian National University, Swinburne and the University of Western Australia) have announced they will accept students based on their year 11 results.

The rationale is that the disrupted 2020 year will affect year 12 results. So, it’s fairer to use their results from last year.

It’s clear finishing school in the midst of a global pandemic is tough. Students are facing escalating pressure from learning online and loss of vital connections to peers, extended family and the community.

Rates of mental health issues and self-harm among Australian young people have risen over the last decade. Easing the pressures they face is a priority.

But universities accepting students based on year 11 scores is only a small response in a world experiencing enormous changes.

Is using year 11 results a good thing?

The Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) is a rank used by universities to select which students, out of high school, will be offered a place in a particular course. It represents the Holy Grail of school achievement for many Australian students and schools.

Its importance is reinforced by media reports of ATAR excellence each December. The decision to use year 11 results will likely be welcomed by many students concerned their ATAR is in jeopardy.

Some students have argued using year 11 results is unfair or flawed, as some students may have eased off in year 11 and planned to put in the extra effort to recover in year 12. But using year 11 results is unlikely to damage these students’ chances.

That’s because ATAR scores are strongly correlated with earlier school achievement, which means high achievers are unlikely to lose their position in the race.

Importantly, using year 11 results will go some way towards reducing the effects of the ‘”digital divide“ on student learning. Students with limited access to technology, or from less wealthy schools with fewer resources to cope with the sudden adaptation to online learning, will be further disadvantaged in the Class of 2020.




Read more:
Schools are moving online, but not all children start out digitally equal


One downside is the potential for confusion for students who have been assured by education minister Dan Tehan that they will still receive an ATAR in 2020, with appropriate adjustments.

It’s not yet clear what these adjustments will be, and state differences in senior secondary assessments complicate matters further.

What else do students need?

Even before COVID-19, only around one-quarter of students entered Australian universities based on their ATAR.

Universities already offer a range of other entry pathways including interviews, preparation tests, portfolios, recognition of knowledge from paid or voluntary work, or pathways through vocational education and training to gain credit for university entry.




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Don’t stress, your ATAR isn’t the final call. There are many ways to get into university


The post-COVID-19 tertiary education landscape will be a buyers’ market, as universities compete for students in a less globally mobile world.

Australian universities are experiencing massive drops in their numbers of international students. This means the university sector will be experiencing estimated losses of up to A$19 billion. A logical policy response would be to enable universities to open up access for domestic students to make up some of the shortfall.

So, the biggest question may be how to create fair entry pathways into tertiary education for the surge in participation the sector will need to survive – not how to cobble together fair ATAR scores for the relatively small proportion of university students who use it for an entry pathway.

Success at university does not depend on a high ATAR. This is especially so in courses like teaching and nursing where interpersonal skills and attitudes matter even more.

Calls to ditch the ATAR “straitjacket” and develop alternative assessments like learner profiles (student records that include academic and other learning) existed before COVID-19. Such calls are intensifying in the current environment.

This may be the perfect opportunity to rethink the ATAR as the main entry assessment for school leavers into university.

Not everyone goes to university

The preoccupation with ATAR scores ignores around half of school leavers who aren’t bound for university. Many of these students head to TAFE or other vocational education and training (VET) courses, which depend more on practical skills than academic achievement.

The COVID-19 crisis has reinforced the importance of practical, hands-on skills in the Australian economy. Many people in the occupations that have kept Australia going during the crisis – including nurses, aged care workers, early childhood educators and freight and logistics workers – have VET qualifications.

COVID-19 may have an even bigger impact on students in the Class of 2020 who prefer practical skills to academic subjects as students doing VET subjects are missing out on hands-on learning. Meanwhile, young aspiring apprentices are struggling to find work, as job adverts for new apprenticeships collapse.




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Trade apprentices will help our post COVID-19 recovery. We need to do more to keep them in work


Australia is notoriously bad at recognising the value of learning that does not lead to university. There is a risk these students will again be forgotten in the current focus on ATAR.

While university-bound students might begin to breathe a sigh of relief, many more are still waiting for solutions that keep their year 12 dreams alive.The Conversation

Jen Jackson, Education Policy Lead, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University and Sarah Pilcher, Policy Fellow, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Lecture recordings mean fewer students are turning up – does it matter?



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Natalie Skead, University of Western Australia; Fiona McGaughey, University of Western Australia; Kate Offer, University of Western Australia; Liam Elphick, University of Western Australia, and Murray Wesson, University of Western Australia

In 2017, a business lecturer posted a photo on LinkedIn showing a completely empty university classroom, 15 minutes after the class had been scheduled to start.

This is not an isolated incident. Anecdotally, lecture and tutorial attendance has been declining steadily in Australian universities and faculties for many years.

Declining attendance may affect students’ academic performance and their sense of connectedness. University doesn’t only teach content but develops attributes such as oral communication and interpersonal skills including teamwork.

Students are less likely to develop these skills if they don’t physically attend class.

We conducted a large-scale study in our law school to uncover whether lecture recordings are responsible for declining student attendance and what motivates students to attend or miss class.

By manually counting how many students were in lectures across sixteen different subjects, we found attendance rates averaged just 38% of total enrolments across the semester.

A Deakin University lecturer’s empty classroom 15 minutes after the class was due to start.
Adrian Raftery/LinkedIn

There was a natural ebb and flow of lecture attendance throughout the semester. There was peak attendance at the beginning (57%), a significant drop in the middle as assessments became due (26%) and a rebound at the end of semester as exam season hit (35%).

We also asked students to self-report their lecture attendance. The most common answer given, by far, was “almost all of the time” and 59% of students said they attended lectures the majority of the time.

Clearly there is a dissonance between this self-perception and reality.

Are recordings to blame?

Lecture recording is now common in Australian universities. Anecdotally, it’s often held responsible for declining attendance rates. But there is little research on the relationship between student attendance and lecture recording.

While lectures are usually recorded and available to students in streamed or downloadable format once the class ends, tutorials and other smaller classes are not usually recorded.




Read more:
Are lectures a good way to learn?


Our study found students aren’t ditching tutorials, seminars and workshops as much as they are lectures. Tutorials averaged a whopping 84% attendance rate. This could partly be explained by the fact teachers assess students on their participation in tutorials.

We also surveyed 900 students to find out their reasons for attending and not attending lectures, tutorials and workshops.

Availability of lecture recordings was the most common reason students gave for not attending lectures (18% of students said this). But work commitments were a close second (16%). Then it was timetable conflicts (12%), the time and day of lectures (11%) and assessments being due (8%).

Students lead complex lives

Universities provide students with lecture recordings for several reasons. These include giving students an alternative study tool and supporting students with disabilities or from non-English speaking backgrounds (who can slow down or pause recordings if necessary).

Our survey and focus groups showed students lead complex lives often balancing work, family and other commitments alongside their studies.

One student said:

[…] if some [lectures] are so early as 8am, that would involve waking up at 6am, which is difficult as I work in hospitality at night and if I’ve worked the night before I wouldn’t be getting to bed until after midnight.

I likely would be fatigued during that lecture and have difficulty concentrating and taking in the content, compared to if I watched the recording and took notes later that afternoon.

Other students said they relied on lecture recordings to enhance their learning. One said:

I find I get more out of the lecture by listening to it in my own time and at my own pace […] I prefer to be able to pause the recorded video to research more in-depth into cases and theories to add to my notes.

Some students with additional learning needs said the option not to attend class, and to access lecture recordings, was an important equity measure.

What should we do?

Lecture recordings bring important benefits for students. They can also be necessary for students with personal, work or health difficulties.

But recordings are clearly contributing to declining lecture attendance, too. We propose three possible paths forward for universities and teachers, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

First, we can simply persist with the traditional model of recorded lectures. Teachers will need to accept attendance will likely be low and student learning, experience and wellness should instead be the focus of tutorials and other small group classes.

Second, we can introduce more active learning into lectures to encourage greater attendance. This could include small group exercises, in-class polling or role-plays.




Read more:
Let’s not abandon the humble lecture quite yet


But this would mean lecture recordings would be less useful for students. It would undercut the flexibility recordings offer and may cause equity concerns.

Third, we can change our teaching methodology to a “flipped” approach. This means the main way students would get information would be through online resources and activities. Face-to-face classes would then be dedicated to engaging students in deeper learning through collaborative activities.

Though this frees up lecture time for more effective learning, it would require appropriate support and training for teachers. Teachers, many of whom already work under significant time constraints, would need to invest more time and energy into their lessons.

Unfortunately there is not a one-size fits all answer to the conundrum of declining lecture attendance. But learning and teaching policies, such as mandatory lecture recording, should be informed by an evidence-based understanding of the likely consequences for staff and students.The Conversation

Natalie Skead, Professor, Dean of Law School, University of Western Australia; Fiona McGaughey, Senior Lecturer, Law School, University of Western Australia; Kate Offer, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Western Australia; Liam Elphick, Adjunct Research Fellow, Law School, University of Western Australia, and Murray Wesson, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Malaysia: Persecution News Update


The link below is to an article reporting on persecution news from Malaysia, where a Christian name has led to a girl being rejected from university.

For more visit:
http://www.codewit.com/asia-pacific/9362-malaysia-christian-name-reason-to-reject-top-student

Unprecedented Appearance of Foreign Evangelist in Vietnam


Luis Palau preaches at Protestant centennial in spite of government putting up obstacles to event.

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam, April 11 (CDN) — The first appearance by a U.S.-based evangelist preaching at a major event since the 1975 communist victory in Vietnam helped the country’s Protestants to celebrate their centennial last weekend after government officials gave last-minute approval.

In what seems to have become standard government procedure in Vietnam, permission requested months in advance was granted – at a venue several kilometers from the one organizers sought – just three hours before the first major celebration of the Centennial of Protestantism in Vietnam (1911-2011) at Thanh Long Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City on Saturday (April 9) was scheduled to begin. Argentine-born Luis Palau, who has preached in person to 28 million people in 72 countries, delivered the gospel
message.

A second night of celebration began at 7 p.m. on Sunday.

The venue change meant equipment staged in one part of the city had to be moved to the new location before it could be assembled, church leaders said. It also meant notifying many thousands of people invited to one venue about the change to the other, they said.

Given the lack of government cooperation, the leader of Vietnam’s Evangelical Fellowship (of house churches) said the fact that the event went ahead at all was “an absolute miracle.”

By word-of-mouth, Internet, Twitter, Facebook, and especially phone texting, thousands of people got word of the change as technicians and hundreds of volunteers made heroic efforts to ready the stadium. Vietnamese police proved surprisingly helpful in redirecting people from the original site to the new location.

At 9 p.m. – two hours after the schedule start – huge banners reading “PRAY FOR VIETNAM” and “GOD LOVES VIETNAM” were unfurled to welcome the Luis Palau Team and thousands of people to the festival, which joyfully combined the centennial celebration with Easter.

After opening prayers and welcome by Vietnamese leaders, Palau’s son Andrew Palau gave testimony to how God delivered him from alcoholism and drug addiction and called him to Christian service. An Intel Corp. vice-president also gave testimony to how God blessed his life and his business. Pastor-musician Don Moen, known for songs such as “Give Thanks,” “God is so Good,” and “God will Make a Way,” provided inspirational music followed by exuberant congregational singing.

Palau began his message at 11 p.m., delivering a concise and clear evangelistic sermon, and about 800 came forward as he invited people to receive Christ. It was after midnight before people began to depart for their homes.

The second celebration proceeded Sunday evening (April 10) in a more orderly and timely fashion. More than 12,000 people filled the seats and most of the chairs set up on the stadium field. In response to Palau’s second message, more than 1,000 people, according to one organizer, came forward in response to the call to follow Christ.

Photos and Vietnamese text on the events are readily available at http://www.hoithanh.com, and clips of the arrival of Palau and Moen in Vietnam may be found on YouTube. They were welcomed at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhut airport by hundreds of enthusiastic young people carrying banners and flowers.

Dr. Nguyen Xuan Duc, president of the Vietnam World Christian Fellowship, said he was very encouraged about the future of the church in Vietnam.

“These are watershed days for Protestantism in Vietnam,” he said. “There is no fear, but rather wonderful spontaneity and irrepressible joy. Events like this happen in spite of the government and without the blessing of some overly conservative church leaders. What we see is young, vibrant, lay-led, internationally connected and very media-savvy.”

While Moen, Palau and others spoke on Sunday night, also appearing in Ho Chi Minh City was iconic singer/songwriter Bob Dylan – whose performance sold only about half of the 8,000 seats at RMIT university.

A week before in Beijing, censors who reviewed Dylan’s song list allowed an unabashedly Christian song beginning, “Jesus said be ready for you know not the hour in which I come,” but did not allow “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” according to The Associated Press. Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch complained that, in an earlier day, Dylan – whose music contributed to opposition to the Vietnam War – would never have let a government tell him what to sing, according to the AP.  

Vietnamese organizers and the Palau team now travel north to Hanoi for similar events on Friday and Saturday (April 15-16). As yet there is no indication whether authorities there will be more accommodating than they were in Ho Chi Minh City.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

Evangelist Arrested in Zanzibar, Tanzania


Elsewhere on island off East Africa, Christians prohibited from worshipping at university.

NAIROBI, Kenya, August 19 (CDN) — Christian university students on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, a predominantly Muslim area off the coast of East Africa, have been denied the right to worship, while on another part of the isle a Christian leader has been jailed.

Sources said evangelist Peter Masanja, a resident of Zanzibar’s southeastern town of Paje, was arrested by security agents sometime in early August. Earlier this year Masanja, a member of the Pentecostal Church in Zanzibar, would invite Christians to his house, as he had made part of his land available for church activities. Area Muslims interpreted it as plans to establish another church there, the sources said.

The rumor angered local residents, and they vowed to prohibit any Christian activities, the sources said.

“It was only after her husband failed to return home that Masanja’s wife knew that there was something amiss,” said a source who requested anonymity. “After several days of searching, reports reached the wife that Masanja had been arrested and imprisoned in Kilimani cell.”

Pastors from Tanzania’s Zanzibar Island sought to meet with prison authorities about Masanja’s arrest, but officials informed them that the person in charge of the prison was away on official business, said Bishop Obeid Fabian, chairman of an association of congregations known as the Fraternal Churches.

“We are asking for prayers for him and his family, that he would be released,” Fabian said.

At Zanzibar University, a private school in Tunguu 18 kilometers (12 miles) from Zanzibar Town, Islamic administrators have denied Christian students freedom of worship while retaining that constitutional right for Muslims, said Samson Zuberi, Christian Union students coordinator.

Three Christian Union student leaders have protested to school officials and threatened to go to court over the discrimination, he said. Although freedom of worship among Christians has long been restricted at the university, the decision to ban it completely caused an outcry. The vice-chancellor’s office on Dec. 28, 2009 issued the order forbidding Christian students from conducting their affairs and meetings on the school campus.    

Numbering about 100 at a university with more than 2,500 students, the Christian students say they have felt the administration increasingly discriminating against them. There are two mosques at the university, which is sponsored by an Islamic charity, Dar el Uman Charitable Association, registered in Geneva, Switzerland, according to the school’s Web site.

In an April 12 circular, university Dean of Students Mavua H. Mussa warned those defying worship regulations to seek other learning institutions, saying that the ban on religious activities in lecture theaters, halls of residence or anywhere else on campus was absolute.

Students said the ban violates sections 19(1) and 20(1) of the Zanzibar Constitution of 1984, which provide for freedom of association, including religious groups, free of government control. Articles 19(1) (2) and 20(1) of the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania of 1977 provide for the same freedom, they said.

Fabian told Compass by telephone that the students will seek counsel from Christian students at universities in Dar es Salaam and Dodoma, Tanzania.

“We have advised that before they take the case to court, the three Christian Union leaders should travel to get counsel from their fellow students at the universities of Dar es Salaam and Dodoma, especially the Christian law students, to get the correct interpretation of the Tanzanian constitution on the right of worship,” Fabian said.

He added that the students – Zuberi, regional Christian Union Student Chairman Ronald R. Urassa and Christian Union Student Secretary Neema Alex Langalli – need to raise US$800 each for the travel.

Similarly, the dress code at the university has caused tensions, sources said, as officials have threatened to expel female Christian students if they do not wear a veil and headscarf, or the Buibui and Hijab. University regulations state that, “For a female dressing, the clothes must cover from head to an ankle.”

Some of the lecturers have put female Christian students out of class if they do not wear the required Islamic dress, sources said.

They also noted that during the current Islamic month of Ramadan, a period of fasting by day, life for Christian students becomes difficult as university regulations forbid them to cook for themselves, and all cafeterias on or near university campuses are closed. The location of the school makes it difficult for Christian students to find meals outside the university cafeteria.

Even if they remain off campus, the conditions and practices of landlords discriminate against Christians, the sources said.

In predominately Sunni Muslim Zanzibar, churches face numerous challenges. There are restrictions on getting land to build churches, open preaching is outlawed and there is limited time on national television to air Christian programs. In government schools, only Islamic Religious knowledge is taught, not Christian Religious Education.

Zanzibar is the informal designation for the island of Unguja in the Indian Ocean. The Zanzibar archipelago united with Tanganyika to form the present day Tanzania in 1964.

Muslim traders from the Persian Gulf had settled in the region early in the 10th century after monsoon winds propelled them through the Gulf of Aden and Somalia. The 1964 merger left island Muslims uneasy about Christianity, seeing it as a means by which mainland Tanzania might dominate them, and tensions have persisted.

Report from Compass Direct News

Christian Woman in Pakistan Abused, Forced to Resign


Sanitation worker on verge of receiving benefits; in another village, church builders attacked.

SARGODHA, Pakistan, June 10 (CDN) — A Christian woman here said she has been falsely accused of theft, beaten, threatened with rape and forced to resign her job in a bid to keep her from obtaining full benefits as a regular government employee.

Razia Bibi, a 38-year-old sanitation worker known as Rajji of village No. 47-NB (Northern Branch), Sargodha, was due to obtain regular status as a government employee at Aysha Girls’ Hostel at the University of Sargodha at the end of May. On May 7, however, Muslim office worker Safia Bibi accused her of stealing 10,000 rupees (US$120) from her cubicle – and when Muslim hostel warden Noshaba Bibi learned of it, she called female police officers and ordered them to beat her until
she confessed, Rajji said.

“Lady police constables subjected me to inhumane thrashing with bamboo sticks and kept saying that I must confess or they would not spare me,” she said, adding that she was beaten for four hours in one of the hostel rooms. “I said that, being a Christian from childhood, I had learned not to steal, therefore I told them the truth, but it seemed they were bent on making me confess a crime I had not committed.”

Her comment about being a Christian and therefore not having stolen anything seemed to especially enrage Safia Bibi and Noshaba Bibi, she said.

“Hostel officials turned violent, and they called Haaser Khan, the chief security officer of the university, accompanied by two junior security guards, and ordered them to take me into a cubicle and take off my clothes and rape me,” she said. “I raised a cry for help, but there was no one to help me.”

Her husband, Nayyer Aftab, told Compass that someone informed him that his wife was in serious trouble at her workplace. Rushing to the girls’ hostel, he said, he found the security guards dragging his wife on the ground as she screamed for help. When Aftab asked why they were treating her this way, Khan charged him with his baton and left him injured on the ground, Aftab said. The chief security officer took Rajji inside.

“Both hostel officers, Noshaba and Safia, told me that Rajji had stolen 10,000 rupees, and that because she didn’t confess her crime the security guards were going to teach her a lesson,” Aftab said.

Aftab said he knew that his wife would not confess to theft even to spare herself from rape, and he pleaded with the two accusers to stop the security guards, promising that he would pay them the amount of the allegedly stolen money.

“At this both Safia and Noshaba ordered to bring Rajji out and not rape her,” Aftab told Compass. “They gave me an hour to make payment of the allegedly stolen amount.”

He said he went to friends and relatives to gather up the 10,000 rupees and gave it to Safia Bibi and Noshaba Bibi, but Aftab said they still compelled his wife to resign by forcibly obtaining a thumb print from the illiterate woman on a resignation statement.

Rajji said she had been happily looking forward to obtaining regular employee status.

“In three weeks I was going to become a regular employee as a sanitation worker at the university, but as I am a Christian, the Muslim hostel officers Safia and Noshaba wanted a Muslim regular employee after their hearts instead of me,” she told Compass.   

Noshaba Bibi initially refused to comment on the allegation that she falsely accused the Christian woman of theft in order to provide a job to someone of her choice. After repeated questioning by Compass, however, she became exasperated and used coarse language, yelling, “Yes, I have done it, do whatever you want!”

The Christian couple in the village in Punjab Province has an 8-year-old daughter and two sons, ages 9 and 5.

 

Christians Beaten, Jailed

In a village in southern Punjab Province, Muslim extremists on Saturday (June 5) attacked Christians trying to construct a church building, and then got police to file charges against them for defending themselves, according to the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA).

A club-wielding Muslim mob led by Muhammad Nazir Ahmed beat Christians who were laying the foundation for the church building in village No. 184/9-L, in Cheechawatni of Sahiwal district, seriously injuring several of them, said Javed Akber Gill, APMA district coordinator in Sahiwal.

Ahmed later enlisted Inspector Allah Ditta, station house officer at the Dera Rahim police station, to file charges against four Christians – Noreen Mumtaz, who is pregnant, and her husband Mumtaz Inayat, Aftab Inayat and Kashif Masih, Christian sources said. All four were charged with critically injuring others and attempting to kill or threaten to kill, they said.

Inspector Ditta refused to respond to repeated requests by Compass for comment on allegations that he colluded with the Muslim extremists to falsely accuse the Christian victims of the attack.

The accused Christians pleaded with police that they were innocent, to no avail. Gill said that he was doing his best to resolve the issue peacefully in an attempt to avert the kind of violence that hit the Christian communities of Gojra and Korian in July and August of 2009 and Shanti Nagar in 1997.

The Rev. John Rizwani of Cheechawatni city said the government had allotted a small piece of land to the Christians for the building and that they had permission to build. There are only 25 Christians’ homes amid the approximately 500 Muslim homes in the village.

Ferhan Mazher, chairman of Rays of Development Organization, Azher Kalim, general secretary the Christians Lawyers Foundation and Khalid Gill, head of APMA in Punjab, condemned the attack.

“Attacks on worship places usurp basic human rights and constitute a conspiracy to belittle the name of Pakistan worldwide,” Mazher said.

Report from Compass Direct News