Our expert looks at China’s drive to attract foreign students and create a web of international partnerships
China is critical to the economics of global higher education, says Rahul Choudaha. Photograph: Alamy
China is home to roughly 20% of the world’s population. It contributes about 14% of global economic output. The size and interconnectedness of its economic activities mean that the knock-on effects are felt far and wide.
But China is also a primary engine of growth for international higher education, leading the way in student recruitment, English and Chinese language programmes, transnational education and short-term study abroad.
The country, therefore, is critical to the economics of global higher education – and understanding the developments there will enable universes across the world to create informed institutional strategies and adapt to a rapidly shifting landscape. So here are some of the key trends related to the internationalisation of Chinese higher education:
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1. China is making itself more attractive to international students
In 2014, there were almost 380,000 international students from more than 200 countries studying at universities in China. Nearly 35% of those students were based in either Beijing or Shanghai, and the majority – 56% – were on short-term, non-degree programmes, learning Chinese language and culture.
The Chinese ministry of education launched the Study in China plan in 2010, which aims to attract 500,000 students by 2020. The challenge is to make China an attractive destination for degree-seeking international students. Several policy initiatives are in the works, including bilateral partnerships (such as the recent UK-China initiative), additional scholarships for one-year language preparation courses, more programmes in English, and easier access to the job market for international students.
2. Economic issues are unlikely to hit higher education
In the wake of recent worries about the Chinese economy, many institutions have aired concerns about the impact on international student enrollment. Could this be the beginning of the end of the China growth story? As I have written before, I don’t think so.
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In 2014, 1.7 million Chinese students were enrolled in institutions around the world. In that year alone, 459,800 Chinese left China to study abroad; an increase of 11% from the year before. Of those students, the vast majority - about 92% - were self-funded.
Given the size and scale of the wealthy classes in China, the demand for high-school and undergraduate education abroad is likely to remain strong. For many Chinese families, an international education is seen as an investment in a recession-proof, premium product (for which many have saved and prepared for a long time). But self-funded graduate education at both the master’s and doctoral levels could potentially face challenges for the next couple of years.
3. Joint international projects are due to increase
In 2014, nearly 600 Chinese universities were working in partnership with foreign institutions to offer more than 1,100 joint programmes for bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, according to the China Education Association for International Exchange (CEAIE).
These cross-border joint ventures are especially important for countries like the UK. More Chinese entrants to English higher education institutions started their first degree through a transnational education pathway (55%) in 2013-14 than through direct student recruitment (36%), according to a recent report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
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There is an increasing focus on addressing the quality of cross-border partnerships, with the goal of enhancing the attractiveness and influence of the Study in China plan.
New initiatives, such as partnerships along the Silk Road, are set to create further opportunities for engagement with China. And the dependency of many higher education institutions on Chinese students to meet their international student recruitment goals means that the country will continue to be a dominant part of international strategies in the short to medium term.
Interest among international students looks likely to grow too, as the government pushes on with a proactive policy agenda and the country’s institutions improve support services and outreach to young people across the globe. - The Guardian