Queen's University in Belfast is chartering a plane to take hundreds of students directly from China to Northern Ireland.

It says the move is aimed at reassuring students worried about flying due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.

Nearly 23,000 students attend Queens, with around 1,200 from China. International students are a vital source of income for the institution.

Medicine is the most expensive course at the university.

Medical students from Northern Ireland pay an annual tuition fee of £4,395, so the full five-year course costs £21,975.

International students, including those from China, pay an annual fee of £41,850, so the five-year course costs them £209,250.

On its website, the university points out that the fee for international students includes a mandatory clinical placement levy introduced by the Department of Health at Stormont.

Many international students also live in university accommodation, with their monthly rental being paid to Queens rather than private landlords.

China is the largest market for international students so to help ensure that new students from the country can attend courses next year, Queens is chartering a plane.

The university said the move is aimed at reassuring students and their families and to reduce any anxiety they may have about travelling during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

"We appreciate that international travel may be difficult over the coming weeks and months with limited flight availability and the need to transfer through busy transport hubs," said a statement from Queens.

"Therefore, the university has arranged a chartered flight from Beijing exclusively for new and returning students."

The Boeing 777 aircraft operated by Qatar Airways will leave Beijing on 18 September to get students to Belfast on time for the start of the new academic year on 21 September.

Queens will not say how much it is paying to charter the aircraft, but each student will pay £616 for the one way flight.

Students will have to take a Covid-19 test 48 hours before departure and only those who test negative and are not displaying any symptoms of the virus will be allowed on board.

Queens says a number of staff members will also be on board to deal with any queries.

If the students are required to quarantine on arrival because of British government health guidelines at the time they will be taken directly to university accommodation and be quarantined there.

The university says flights from other parts of the world may be organised depending on demand.