China has seen a surge in the number of students returning to the country after studying overseas, the Ministry of Education said on Thursday.
More than 272,000 people returned last year, 86,700 more than in 2011, a 46 percent increase, according to the authority.
At the same time, 399,600 students went abroad, up 17.65 percent.
The country is actively encouraging students to return home after studying overseas, Zhang Xiuqin, director of the Ministry of Education's department of international cooperation and exchanges, said at a news conference on Thursday.
"The ministry holds entrepreneur competitions and encourages enterprises to hire talent from overseas," she said. "The ultimate goal is to attract more and avoid a brain drain, which is a global problem."
According to the ministry, of the 2.64 million students who have gone abroad since 1978, 1.09 million — about two-fifths — have returned.
However, Zhang said the number of returnees has risen year-on-year.
The latest annual report on the development of Chinese studying abroad, which was compiled by the Center for China and Globalization and Mycos, an independent consulting firm, said that in 2011 the return rate reached 36.5 percent.
The report found that more overseas students are willing to return. The top two reasons are more economic opportunities and career development.
The return rate is closely associated with domestic economic status. Since 2008, the economy in the West has struggled and the unemployment rate has grown. Meanwhile, China's economy has grown, and the government has released many preferential policies to encourage overseas students to return, the report said.
Hu Xuetao, a senior human resources manager at Beijing Automotive Group, one of the country's top automotive companies, said the company begun reaching out to overseas talents in 2011.
The company started holding overseas job fairs in Germany in April 2011. "We've held three in different cities, including Munich and Stuttgart," Hu said.
"We've hired 360 from overseas job fairs since 2011. They brought professional skills to our company and have done their jobs very well," Hu said, adding that one employee who returned from overseas won a national award.
Beijing automotive is planning two more job fairs in Germany and Britain in 2013.
Wang Yu is one of the thousands of overseas students who have returned. After graduating from Peking University with a bachelor's degree in 2008, Wang went to the United States, where she earned a master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She then returned to China.
Wang has worked for a public relations company for nearly three years, and travels back and forth between China and the US.
"Besides personal reasons, I believe that China, as an emerging economy, has more opportunities than the US. China is an energetic growing power entity; but the US is more peaceful and stable. As an inspired young person, I like the challenge more than a peaceful and steady life," she said, adding that as a Chinese, she had more advantages in China than in the US.
"Being in the US and in China have become my strengths. I can deal with international customers easily, such as understanding their demands and cultures," she said.
According to the ministry, 328,330 international students studied in China in 2012, an increase of 12.21 percent over 2011.
The number of students from Africa, Asia and Europe has risen rapidly, with year-on-year increases of 30.41, 15.19 and 10.48 percent respectively.