For Chinese students, the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has been a double whammy. While many of them have faced racist attacks and 'China virus' jibe, most of them have returned home following the shutdown of the campuses. But now, the toughest part is reconnecting with the rest of the world.
With the "Great Firewall" in place, attending virtual classes and accessing study materials have been a troublesome task for over 600,000 Chinese students who study abroad. Even with virtual private networks (VPNs), slow loading speed and blocked access to multiple websites, including Google, have practically slowed down the progress.
But China's own Alibaba has come up with a solution. The e-commerce giant's cloud division, which has a paltry market share in the world compared to Google, Amazon and Microsoft, is bridging the gap between the rest of the world and mainland China.
How Does It Work?
While most of the VPNs are banned in China and the rest cannot operate without a license, Alibaba is using Fortinet's cloud network to offer students access to their study material in the U.S. and European countries. Fortinet is a licensed VPN service provider in China.
Alibaba cloud works like a bridge between China's web services and the U.S. university portals. Through that, Chinese students get limited access to university websites. Alibaba also allows students to browse the web but that is only limited to content relevant to their study programs.
"Schools can manage the services themselves so that students' online activities are protected against malicious attacks or harmful websites," Alibaba Cloud told Reuters in a statement.
Temporary Relief for Chinese Students
This comes as a great relief for the Chinese students at a time when the U.S. President Donald Trump has practically targeted them as a part of the U.S.-China trade war. Trump Administration made an attempt to restrict student visas for them who were taking online classes besides floating the idea of revoking visas to the ones who had ties with the Chinese military in the past.
Apart from that, it may come as a relief for university professors in the U.S. who were concerned about using video-conferencing platforms like Zoom to conduct virtual classes fearing censorship of content related to China.
"During the challenging time of the Coronavirus, cloud-based technologies play an important role to help people adapt to the new normal. Our technology offers a solution to meet an important need for students to continue with their studies. This should not be mixed with any political affairs," Alibaba added in the statement.
It's not just the U.S. though. As per the Council of Australasian University Directors of Information Technology (CAUDIT), 30 of its 47 affiliated universities are already using Alibaba Cloud to deliver content to students. Even universities in the U.K. are offering the service on a trial basis. The U.K.-based Joint Information Systems Committee has listed four institutions that are using Alibaba cloud to reach their Chinese students in the mainland.
However, the unique service comes at a higher price with practically no competitor in this niche for Alibaba. "The cost per month is quite high, but you've got to weigh that up against the impact on students and the level of importance that we give to our international students," Steve Johnston, Strategic Procurement Director at CAUDIT, said.