The number of international students studying at Chinese institutions reached more than 492,000 in 2018, the Study in China’s deputy director confirmed at a recent event in Beijing. However, the figures mark only a slight increase on 2017, when 489,200 visiting students were recorded.
Speaking at the graduation ceremony for the master’s program for developing countries at Beijing Normal University, Liu Xiao, deputy director of the Study in China division at the Department of International Cooperation and Exchange said students from 196 countries came to 1,004 Chinese education institutions in 2018.
She said that more than half of those students (52.4%) were studying for a diploma, the China Daily reported.
Liu added that the government had sponsored scholarships for about 63,000 students in 2018.
“Around 90% of the scholarship winners were pursuing a diploma,” Liu explained.
“The cohort of international students in China only grew to a modest extent last year as compared to around 10% in each of the previous few years,” Kim Morrison CEO and executive director – China of Grok Global Services told The PIE News.
“It is important to note that nearly half of the international students are non-degree seeking international students; a big contrast to other destination countries,” she added.
“While western institutions would be wise to watch China more closely as a global competitor for international students, there is still some distance for China to travel in becoming a global education power,” Morrison said.
However, it’s not surprising to see more students considering the country as a study destination, Morrison explained.
“As part of the Belt and Road initiative, as well as the Double World Class initiative, China has been investing in attracting international students, including significant national and provincial scholarship programs.”
An increasing number of institutions are able to host international students, she added, and the availability of English taught degree programs is widening at universities in the country.
Last year, the Chinese Ministry of Education increased its budget for ‘overseas students who come to China to study’ by 16.08 %, and the country is aiming to attract 500,000 international students by 2020.
Then in April 2019, the MoE unveiled policy points with regards to “opening education to the outside world”.
Paul Schulmann, associate director of research at World Education Services said it is reasonable to believe the figure that Liu quoted as accurate.
“China has set ambitious international enrolment targets, but has also put its money where its mouth is, implementing a host of policy initiatives, partnerships and scholarships that improve the quality of and access to their higher education system,” Schulmann explained.
In addition to English language programs and bilateral agreements with Belt and Road partners, Lin Tian, CGHE research associate noted that the improvement of Chinese universities’ reputation, as well as the welcoming atmosphere and the attraction of the Chinese culture, has boosted the number of inbound students.
International students in China are also benefiting campuses and domestic students across the country, she added.
“In most cases, Chinese universities have become more internationalised and diversified.
“The international students’ presence may shape policies and practices in Chinese universities to be more efficiency-driven, service-driven and reputation-driven. They help universities to optimise and update the management models and educational policies, potentially improving the international level of universities.”
Associate professor from the Institute of Education at Tsinghua University Wen Wen noted that China is taking an “open and inclusive” attitude towards international exchange.
“The biggest challenge faced by Chinese HEIs is to attract high-quality students, provide quality programs and remove barriers that prevent the communication between Chinese students and international students,” Wen told The PIE.
Projects such as the CAMPUS Asia project has boosted students coming from South Korea, Tian added.
Wen added that most of the increase is attributed to students from South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
According to Ben Phair, managing director of China Campus Network, students are now choosing China above other study destinations.
“Students had chosen China for the low cost factors above all other reasons,” Phair said.
“What we’ve noticed in the past five years however is the sharp increase in students coming to China from other developed countries such as the US and Europe.”
Phair said that students are going to China for its “unique opportunities”, including to learn the language, before going on to bachelor programs to help advance their careers in fields such as engineering and technology.
“China now leads the way [in these areas] in front of the West,” he added.