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China Sees Rising Influx of Foreign Students
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Up until recently, there were far more Chinese students studying in overseas universities than there were foreign students in Chinese universities.

The total number of foreigners studying in China in 2005 was 141,087, compared with 118,500 Chinese studying abroad.

Asian students formed the majority of foreigners studying in China, up to 75.73 percent of the total number or 106,840. In terms of numbers, most of the foreign students were from South Korea, Japan, the US, Vietnam and Indonesia.

According to a report published in People's Daily on July 6, foreign student numbers in China increase by over 20 percent a year. Of particular interest is that three breakthroughs were achieved in 2005. It was the year that China welcomed the largest number of foreign students from the largest number of countries and into the largest number of schools. These were clear indications that China has become the new destination of choice for foreign students.

Of the 141,087 foreign students studying in China in 2005, 7,218 were supported by Chinese government scholarships, and 133,869 were self-supporting. Compared with 2004 figures, this represented an increase of 7.49 percent and 28.56 percent respectively.

Of the 118,500 Chinese students studying abroad in 2005, 3,979 were sponsored by their government, 8,078 by their companies, and 106,500 were self-supporting.

Zhang Xiuqin, general secretary of the China Scholarship Council, pointed out that China's stable political system, rapid economic development, increasing international influence, the quality of higher education, and an improved environment for foreigners are the main reasons why foreign students choose to study here.

In recent years, China's institutions of higher learning have paid keen attention to enhancing their services and standards, scientific research strength, and student exchange. Many universities have also expanded their curricula to include courses in foreign languages, culture and international studies.

At Beijing Normal University, for instance, some 700 foreigners have been granted Chinese government scholarships over the last 10 years. The number of foreigners who pursue advanced studies over a long term is about 1,700. Foreign students currently account for nine percent of the student population.

Another major reason for the influx of foreign students into China is the country's low cost of living. According to Xie Yiming, director of Beijing Education New Skills Promotion Center, the average tuition fee for foreigners enrolled in an undergraduate course in Beijing is about 28,000 yuan (US$3,502). Average expenditure a year is about 50,000 yuan (US$6,253) including accommodation, food and other miscellaneous expenses.

More scholarships for foreign students

Chen Yinghui, director of the Foreign Students Studying or Working in China Office of the International Department of the Ministry of Education, explained that government scholarships are usually given in accordance with bilateral education and cultural exchange agreements. However, in the light of increasing international demand, the Chinese government has started to offer unilateral scholarships.

In addition, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has set up a program that trains foreign doctorate students. In 2004, seven students from Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Pakistan and Japan were, for the first time, granted Chinese government scholarships. They pursued their doctorate studies under the guidance of professors from Huazhong Agriculture University and the Postgraduates Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The MOE has also decided to give out 50 post-graduate scholarships a year to foreigners who have obtained at least one bachelor degree in China.

More than just the language

In the past, foreigners mainly came to China to study Chinese language and history and became Sinologists when they returned to their countries. Nowadays, more opt to study economics, finance, law and journalism. However, Asian students tend to have a wider choice of majors compared to their Western peers because of the language. Few Westerners purse degree courses in China.

This is why many universities have designed courses tailored to the needs of foreign students. In 2005, the International Relations Institute of Renmin University of China included "Economic Issues of Contemporary China" as a major in their undergraduate curriculum with part of the course taught in English.

The Business of education

China stands to benefit economically from the foreign student boom. In theory, 50,000 yuan invested in a business opportunity creates about four new job opportunities. Applying that to foreign student education in China which has generated about 7 billion yuan (US$875 million) in business opportunities, it can and will potentially result in 660,000 job opportunities.

However, some experts pointed out that if each of the 110,000 Chinese students studying abroad spends 150,000 yuan (US$18,760) annually, that would amount to about 16.5 billion yuan (US$2.1 billion). This is twice the expense of foreigners studying in China, which means that China suffers a huge "deficit".

( by Wang Qian, July 9, 2006)


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