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Use foreign education to chart out new paths
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Since the reform and opening-up, China has adopted a flexible policy on Chinese citizens going abroad to study, supporting them to go out and encouraging them to come back after they finish studies.

As a result, the country has witnessed a largest-ever overseas study movement over the past decades. The exodus of hundreds of thousands of Chinese students and scholars to foreign countries has greatly promoted academic exchanges between China and the outside world. It also helped win the country rare chances to learn from the world's frontier sciences and technologies.

Due to a large-scale outflow of Chinese citizens, an increasing number of them have begun to return to the country after their studies abroad are finished. These overseas returnees, most of them with advanced sciences and technologies, and some with modern management expertise and working experiences, are what the motherland badly needs. Some of them have already played an active role in the country's development in various fields.

As a country with a population of 1.3 billion, only a minority of people, under China's current national strength, has access to high-learning education, let alone going abroad for a further study.

With overseas educational background and management expertise, the returnees should have been badly needed in various circles of the country and should have played a full part in its economic and social development.

However, we have seen some gloomy pictures. After returning to the motherland, some of them stay jobless.

People have begun to probe into the reason behind the phenomenon and the reason why a lot of Chinese citizens still remain increasingly enthusiastic for study abroad under the shadow of the phenomenon.

Chinese citizens funded by the government to study abroad are certainly welcome to return after they finish overseas education. Governments at all levels will try to create an ideal working environment for them. It is very common that some government departments or large enterprises recruit their needed talents from across the world, certainly including overseas Chinese citizens.

However, China has already bid farewell to the past unitary, planned economy era, and gone with it is the employment model that all employees are assigned by the government to specific employers.

Three decades after the reform and opening-up, we Chinese have also got extremely accustomed to a mutual choice among employers and employees.

With a large population and a per capita GDP of only $2,500, China is obviously far from being saturated with talents of any kind, but much to the contrary.

All regions across the country, developed or underdeveloped, have been thirsty for talents, especially those nurtured in the foreign academic atmosphere.

The phenomenon of the jobless returnees should be mainly attributed to the lack of effective coordination in talents supply and demand. For example, the vast inland or underdeveloped regions have long been badly in need of people with advanced knowledge or management techniques, returned students included. Some overseas returnees are only willing to work in economically developed regions. However, due to an already highly concentration of talents in these regions, some cannot find an expected job or enjoy no tangible advantage in a fierce employment competition.

The country faces an unbalanced distribution of these people. Its thriving coastal regions can pay them bigger economic returns, but in underdeveloped ones, it is possibly easier for them to realize self-value, such as the sense of success.

Since the reform and opening-up, China has achieved remarkable progresses in various aspects. Despite helpful experiences in overseas study, many of these returned people possibly lack an understanding of the national conditions compared with their home-educated counterparts. Thus, it seems particularly important for overseas returnees to learn something about the motherland's latest development and its ever-improving demands for employees when they plan to come back.

In its modernization drive, China has a long way to go. In the process, the country needs close exchanges with other countries and learn from them. Globalization offers exactly such opportunities for mutual exchanges and cooperation.

Driven by the country's rapid development and ever-widening openness as well as their own pursuit of better education, the current vogue for overseas study among Chinese citizens is expected to carry forward. The country is still thirsty for well-educated people. With overseas returnees adjusting their mentality to a more suitable position, a balanced employment supply and demand will come into being.

By Shen Dingli. the author is a professor with Shanghai-based Fudan University

(China Daily August 15, 2008)

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