The Ministry of Education has launched a five-year graduate program to send about 5,000 students a year to the world's best universities, including Harvard and Yale in the US, and Oxford and Cambridge in England.
Vice-Minister Yuan Guiren said yesterday: "The country has expanded its national scholarship program in a bid to cultivate more top-level talent."
The number of graduate students granted a national scholarship this year will be roughly five times that in 2006, Yuan said.
Students will be chosen from the best undergraduates at 49 top universities across the country, including Tsinghua and Peking.
"The lack of first-class scientists and research pioneers is the main thing hindering China's innovation capability," Yuan said.
Officials with the China scholarship council, which runs the program, said students applying for national key research subjects, such as energy and natural resources, environment, agriculture, manufacturing, information technology, biology and new materials will be given priority.
The council said it will also finance overseas study for 2,000 talented employees from State organizations and research institutes across the country.
Established in 1996, the council had, at the end of last year, sent more than 27,000 students to study abroad. More than 97 percent of them subsequently returned to China after finishing their studies, statistics showed.
Shao Wei, an official with the education ministry's overseas study service center, said that since China opened up to the outside world in 1978, an increasing number of Chinese had chosen to study abroad.
In 1998, just 17,000 Chinese students studied abroad, but that number increased greatly after the country adjusted its policies on self-supported overseas study in 2000.
Today, the majority of Chinese students studying overseas are doing so at their own expense.
In 2006, more than 134,000 students went abroad to study; more than 90 percent of them were self-financed. Also last year, more than 42,300 students returned to China.
Between 1978 and 2006, some 1.07 million Chinese students studied abroad.
"But less than 30 percent of them returned to China after finishing their studies," Shao said.
"In response, the country has launched a series of favorable policies to attract people to return home. These include higher salaries, senior positions and exemption from the hukou (household registration) system," Shao said.
(China Daily June 5, 2007)