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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

In 2017, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign took out an insurance policy to cover the $60 million in tuition that Chinese students paid to the university, in case an unforeseen event precipitated a sudden drop in Chinese student enrollment.

Why it matters: School administrators recognized the risks associated with becoming overly reliant on student tuition from a single foreign country — and amid a global pandemic, their fears have proved justified.

  • This is believed to be the first time a school has insured itself for such a possibility.
  • Back in 2017, Jeffrey Brown, dean of the business school and the main proponent of the insurance policy, was worried about the potential for "a big flu scare that caused none of the students to show up on campus.”

Brown now appears prescient. In the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, many Chinese students returned to China, where many will stay as schools have turned to online-only models for the fall semester.

  • The Trump administration has stated it will deny visas to first-year international students if their universities offer online-only classes, potentially barring tens of thousands of Chinese students from entering the U.S.

"That insurance policy raised a lot of eyebrows when it was first reported on a few years ago, but it started to look smarter and smarter as the trade war heated up. Then it looked brilliant when coronavirus happened," Eric Fish, author of "China's Millennials: The Want Generation," told Axios.

  • "People have been warning universities for years about a financial over-reliance on one country. Not many have seemed to do a whole lot about it."

What to watch: If Chinese student numbers drop significantly, the University of Illinois may try to make a claim this year, according to a report by Reuters.

Go deeper

America's Chinese communities struggle with online disinformation

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Disinformation has proliferated on Chinese-language websites and platforms like WeChat that are popular with Chinese speakers in the U.S., just as it has on English-language websites.

Why it matters: There are fewer fact-checking sites and other sources of reliable information in Chinese, making it even harder to push back against disinformation.

57 mins ago - World

Putin foe Navalny to be detained for 30 days after returning to Moscow

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny. Photo: Oleg Nikishin/Epsilon/Getty Images

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has been ordered to remain in pre-trial detention for 30 days, following his arrest upon returning to Russia on Sunday for the first time since a failed assassination attempt last year.

Why it matters: The detention of Navalny, an anti-corruption activist and the most prominent domestic critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has already set off a chorus of condemnations from leaders in Europe and the U.S.

Biden picks Warren allies to lead SEC, CFPB

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden has selected FTC commissioner Rohit Chopra to be the next director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Obama-era Wall Street regulator Gary Gensler to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Why it matters: Both picks are progressive allies of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and viewed as likely to take aggressive steps to regulate big business.