China’s Ministry of Education says some 459,800 students studied abroad last year, an increase of 11% from 2013. Roughly half of these opted for the United States, where according to the US-based Institute of International Education, Chinese nationals made up 31% of all international students in the 2013/2014 academic year – and with more and more Chinese parents able to afford the hefty price tag that Western pre-college courses invariably carry, the trend looks set to continue into 2015 and beyond.
This article points to some of the weaknesses on display in keeping Chinese students in the US upon completion of their studies… This phenomena is noting new… If it were not for these students, US universities would be “empty…” Let’s face it, most US students either cannot afford the high cost of education or are unaware that a college or university education is available to them… Yes, the quality of Chinese students studying at US universities has improved over the years… No longer are US universities accepting Chinese students simply to fill a “quota” or to boost their international programs with mediocre students from China… Chinese students forgoing the “gao kao” know that they will never study in China… They have chosen the US for their college education… Yet, upon completion of a BA or MA, they return home…
Can the US afford to let them go..? What can we do to keep our “investment” here, the place where their new acquired knowledge and experience can be best put to use..?
-Andreas Kristinus, EduGate
At the peak of the Cultural Revolution, it would have been impossible to envision a mass exodus of Chinese-educated youth to universities in the United States, where capitalism reigned supreme.
Fast forward to today, and many Chinese students skip local university entrance exams and apply to American colleges, which leave no stone unturned in recruiting them. The factors behind the change have as much to do with shifts in financial power as with the emphasis on diversity touted by the universities.
In 2007, 140,000 students from China went abroad for higher education. In 2012, about 400,000 studied abroad, 95 per cent of whom were self-sponsored, according to figures from the Chinese Ministry of Education. Nearly half decided to go to the US; Australia and the UK are the second and third most popular destinations respectively.
The growth in Chinese students pursuing studies in the US has been exponential during the past decade: China sent 60,000 students to the US in 2000, almost all graduate students sponsored by the government; in 2012, 194,000 Chinese students went to the US, with most of the growth coming from self-funded undergraduate students.
Overall, China started to lead all nations in sending students to US universities in 2008. Today, it sends five times more students to US institutions than the second-largest source, according to US State Department statistics.
Chinese students are choosing the US over other developed countries because of familiarity with US brands. “The main reason the US is more popular is simply because there is a greater choice of recognised brands … and many more universities in total,” says William Vanbergen, who runs a chain of admissions consulting offices and international schools in China. “Australia is only considered by people with less disposable income or those aiming for immigration,” he adds, alluding to Australia’s open immigration policies.
Chinese students also prefer the US because the universities offer more academic choices. In the UK, students are generally expected to choose a major at enrolment and stay focused on it during the course of the programme. In the US, on the other hand, most allow students to pick a major at the end of the first or second year.
For their part, US universities are working hard to maximise their share of paying Chinese students. Recruiters understand that despite the recent growth, the number is a fraction of the 10 million students who take the entrance exam for Chinese universities every year. They also understand that an ever-increasing proportion of Chinese families have a higher purchasing power.
The need to penetrate the Chinese student market has been further exacerbated by the financial crisis and budget cuts at home. Some of the largest increases in foreign students are seen at public universities with severe funding cuts by state legislatures.
Public universities are particularly eager in welcoming foreign students, who lend international cachet and can also be charged higher out-of-state tuition. Like out-of-state US residents, international students pay twice as much as in-state residents.
Non-resident domestic students could fill these seats too, though universities do not see why they should be given preference. As Michael K. Young, president of the University of Washington, told The New York Times: “Is there any advantage to our taking a kid from California versus a kid from China? You’d have to convince me, because the world isn’t divided the way it used to be.”
Instead, foreign students are seen as assets who can help prepare local students for a highly connected world.
The US attracts huge numbers of foreign students, but with stringent caps on work visas, does not take advantage of these trained individuals in the workplace. So perhaps it works best for all that the latest cohort of Chinese students no longer yearns to work in the US.
Having immersed themselves in English language and American culture, the students take advantage of increasing opportunities at home. For decades, the rate of return to China remained low as students with advanced degrees did not see opportunities for research at home. Last year, more than 272,000 Chinese returned after completing their education abroad, 86,700 more than in 2011; a 46 per cent increase, according to the Ministry of Education.
Collectively, these students hold the key to transforming China. “This is where the action is,” Vanbergen concluded. “There is a huge shortage of bilingual, bicultural talent required to take China into the next stage of development from an export-based to a domestic consumption-based economy. Students with these backgrounds are ideally positioned to fill this demand.”
Hassan Siddiq studied grand strategy at Yale College and is the founder of www.dailythem.es, a peer-to-peer community focused on writing better. Reprinted with permission from YaleGlobal Online.http://yaleglobal.yale.edu