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Report: China becomes new magnet for international students

MAO LI | 2018-01-11 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Foreign students dressed in Han clothing experience traditional Chinese tea culture in Ningbo, East China's Zhejiang Province. (PHOTO: XINHUA)


China, Australia and Canada have become hot new destinations for international university students in the past three years while the appeal of the United States and the United Kingdom has been decreasing, according to a recent report on overseas study.

The 2017 report on Chinese students abroad and international students in China was jointly released by the Center for China and Globalization and the Institute of Development Studies at the Southwest University of Finance and Economics on Dec. 18.

After she graduated from high school in 2005, Hodan Osman Abdi from Somalia came to China, where she received a complete Chinese higher education. She learned Chinese from scratch and went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in business administration, a master’s degree in teaching Chinese as a second language and a doctorate in communications.

After graduation, she chose to work in China and has become a teacher at the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University. Speaking of her 10 years in China, Hodan said, “I feel lucky to have studied in China. In China, as long as you have the will, your efforts will be paid off.”

The number of foreign students chasing their dreams in China like Hodan is growing. In 1950, there were only 33 foreign students in China, but the number reached 440,000 in 2016. China has become the world’s third-largest and Asia’s largest destination for international students.

Not only is the number soaring, but the quality, structure and type of foreign students are also improving. Cheng Ying, executive director of the Center for World-Class Universities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, said that the origins of foreign students are increasingly diverse. In the past, students mostly came from Asia, Africa and Latin America but now international students hail from countries around the world, with the number of European and American students increasing remarkably, Cheng said.

International students are also growing diverse in terms of choice of majors, ranging from China-related disciplines, like Chinese language and traditional Chinese medicine, to engineering, agriculture and natural sciences, Cheng said. While in the past, most international students  came for short-term Chinese language programs, growing numbers are coming to get diplomas, Cheng added.

More notably, with the implementation of the “Belt and Road” initiative in recent years, students from countries along the routes have flocked to China. According to the report, approximately 207,000 students from countries along the routes of the Belt and Road came to study in China in 2016, accounting for nearly 47 percent of the entire international student body. Among the top 15 countries of origin, 10 are along the routes of the Belt and Road.

Moreover, 57.2 percent of students from the B&R routes said they intend to get diplomas in China, while only one-third of those from other countries are degree students, according to the report. Particularly, more than 90 percent of students from Bahrain and Pakistan are pursuing degrees in China.

Scholars said that the growing appeal of China to international students reflects the nation’s rising comprehensive strength and greater opening-up, as well as expanding global clout of Chinese higher education.

In 2014, the National Work Conference on Overseas Study proposed placing equal emphasis on Chinese students studying abroad and foreign students studying in China, lifting the importance of foreign students studying in China to a new height.

Under this principle, Chinese authorities have not only beefed up efforts in scholarship and educational cooperation but also released policies to remove obstacles for foreign students in job hunting and business startup after graduation.

Attracting international students not only expands the influence of local culture but also secures rich human resources and boosts the development of education service trade, said Xiong Qingnian, director of the Research Institute for Higher Education at Fudan University.

Despite the rapid growth of foreign students studying in China, the number is far smaller than overseas Chinese students. Li Liguo, deputy dean of the School of Education at Renmin University of China, called for the construction of world-class universities and first-class disciplines to upgrade Chinese higher education, thereby ensuring the sustainable development of international students studying in China.



MAO LI is a correspondent with Chinese Social Sciences Today.