Last year we carried a series of reports (see here, here and here) on the global distribution of student mobility. While the US and the UK had the lion’s share of this market, with 22% and 12% respectively, we noted China had made big gains. With 7% of the global market and in 6th place overall, it was an ‘emerging contender’ to be taken seriously, with trends suggesting that it was a serious player as a net ‘exporter’ and importer of education services.
So it was with great interest I read today’s Chronicle of Higher Education report by reporter Mara Hvistendahl, on China now being ranked in 5th place (behind the US, UK, France and Germany) as an “importer” of foreign students. See this OECD chart, from its new Education at a Glance 2008 report, to situate this development trend and China’s current position [recall that China is not an OECD member country].
As the Chronicle report notes, this is a far cry from China’s 33 overseas students in 1950.
Given, too, that in 1997 there were only 39,000 foreign students whilst in 2007 there were some 195,000, this 5-fold increase in numbers in 10 years (Chinese Ministry of Education and the China Scholarship Council) represents a staggering achievement and the one that is likely to continue. So, how has China achieved this. According to the Chronicle report:
To attract students, China offers competitive packages, replete with living stipends, health insurance, and, sometimes, travel expenses. In 2007 the China Scholarship Council awarded 10,000 full scholarships — at a cost of 360 million yuan ($52-million) — to international students. By 2010 the council aims to double the number of awards.
Two-fifths of the 2007 grants went to students in Asia. In a separate scholarship program that reflects its global political strategy, China is using its strengths in science and technology to appeal to students in the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia, forming partnerships with governments in those regions to sponsor students in medicine, engineering, and agriculture.
But there are other factors as well pushing China up the ladder as an education destination. China is increasing regarded as a strategic destination by American students and the US government for study abroad. Figures reported by Institute of International Education fact-sheet on student mobility to and from the US show an increase of 38% in US students going to China in just 1 year (2005/2006). This also represents a profound shift in Sino-American educational relations.
In sum, these figures reflect the outcome of an overall strategy by China (perversely aided by the US’s own global trade and diplomacy agenda):
- to develop a world class higher education system;
- to internationalize Chinese higher education;
- to stem the tide of students flowing out of China;
- to attract half a million students to China by 2020; and
- to advance Chinese interests through higher education diplomacy.
If realized, this would put China at the top of the exporting nations along with the US. It will also register China as a global higher education player with global impact. Without doubt this will change the geo-politics of global higher education.