Australian universities are scrambling to get ready for the sudden return of over 40,000 Chinese students after the country announced it would no longer certify online qualifications from overseas universities.

On Saturday, China’s Ministry of Education announced the end of “special certification rules” that were in place during the pandemic.

“In order to effectively protect the interests of overseas students and maintain education fairness, our centre has decided to cancel the special certification rules,” the Ministry said, according to a statement translated online.

“For the 2023 Spring Semester (Southern Hemisphere Autumn Semester) and after that, the foreign (overseas) diploma certificates obtained by distance learning (including new enrolment and continuing study), the centre will no longer provide certification services.”

Around 26 per cent of international students studying in Australia come from China, according to the Department of Education.

Education Minister Jason Clare welcomed the return of Chinese students to our shores.

“It is good that Chinese students are coming back,” he told journalists on Monday, adding that it “creates challenges with getting on flights, getting visas, getting accommodation”.

Clare said his department would liaise with Home Affairs to help speed up the processing of student visas.

Airlines have reportedly seen an uptick in inquiries from China as students look to make their return, and there are concerns that the current student accommodation simply won’t be able to handle a sudden increase in demand.

“With students scrambling to return earlier than expected, we will see student accommodation full in many markets – which will put pressure on already tight rental markets as students look elsewhere for places to live,” executive director of the Student Accomodation Council Torie Brown said.

Rental prices across the country have ballooned by over 22 per cent in the last two years as the rental market has recovered from a pandemic-led dip.

Universities say they are looking forward to having more students on campus as the sector looks to rebuild following a catastrophic drop in international student enrolments led to fears of a $6 billion drop in revenue over the coming years.

Universities Australia CEO Catriona Jackson said China’s announcement happening close to start of the academic year means “there are obvious logistical issues that need to be worked through” but that it is a step toward returning the higher education institutions to their pre-pandemic status.

“Education is our largest services export and generated more than $40 billion in 2019 while boosting Australia’s social fabric,” she said.

“Working back to this position of strength we held prior to the pandemic is in the interest of universities and our nation.”