As more international students study in China, a new important role for the nation beckons
living in China for the past year I have been amazed at the scale,
rapidity and funding with which China's universities are experimenting
with new forms of international education. The goal is to make China a
destination for students and scholars from around the world. And it is
succeeding: China now ranks third in the world, behind the United States
and the United Kingdom, as a host for international students.
years ago I would not have dreamed that this would be possible. As
director of the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People's
Republic of China, I was responsible for organizing the first group of
US students to study there. I remember long negotiations about their
placement with Ministry of Education leaders in a very cold building.
first group ended up studying primarily at Beijing, Fudan and Nanjing
universities. They have gone on to become leaders in the international
study of China. These key universities had just reopened after the
"cultural revolution" (1966-76) and were not prepared to receive
international students. But they did, and the rest has become history.
the years immediately after the "cultural revolution", students came to
China to study the language and, interestingly enough, medicine.
China's medical institutions offered superior medical training to many
in the developing world. Scholarships were an essential part of China's
technical assistance programs to countries in Africa and Southeast Asia.
China's universities offer a wide array of undergraduate and graduate
programs in many disciplines for which international students are
eligible. Many of the courses are taught in English, greatly enlarging
the educational offerings for students from abroad. China's top
universities are home to significant numbers of foreign students. The
largest number come from South Korea and the US but that too is
changing. Last year the number of students from Africa and Europe
Not only are the courses linguistically
more accessible, but the Chinese government has also significantly
stepped up its scholarship programs for international students. In 2013,
nearly 10 percent of all international students received Chinese
In the US, Chinese scholarships coupled
with more American government funding have increased the number of US
students studying in China. The number is now about 20,000. US President
Barrack Obama has announced a goal of 100,000. US first lady Michelle
Obama's recent visit to China, which focused on education, underlined
the importance the White House is giving to educational relations with
China. Especially significant are the experiments in new institutional
forms. In just the past year the following new programs have commenced
or been announced:
1. The Schwarzman College of Tsinghua
University will offer a master of arts degree for a highly selective
group of international and Chinese students, a Rhodes Scholar program
for China. Breaking ground in 2013, it will welcome the first class of
students in June 2016.
facilities open, Schwarzman College promises its international students a
state-of-the-art environment and an open and uncensored academic
2. Peking University will create a global China
studies MA degree in a new Yenching Academy. The first class of 100
Yenching Scholars will begin in the September of 2015.
3. Zhejiang University is creating a new international campus in a small town between Hangzhou and Shanghai.
New York University Shanghai opened its Shanghai undergraduate campus
with a freshman class of 300 students, with 50 percent Chinese and 50
Kunshan University received approval to open its campus later this year,
with graduate programs and an undergraduate semester program.
Shanghai and Duke Kunshan universities follow in the steps of a
successful decade of Sino-British universities in Ningbo and Suzhou.
the number of international students in these institutions may not be
large their presence signals something new - an increase in the number
of international students who come to China for graduate and
undergraduate degrees, not just for interim study abroad. These new
institutional forms also share the concept of integrating Chinese and
international students into a single institution or graduate program
with instruction in English.
internationalization draws on a legacy of more than 100 years. The first
Chinese students studied in the US in the mid-19th century. By the
early 20th century, there were thousands of Chinese students studying
abroad. During Mao Zedong's era, China's universities and students had
no contact with Western higher education. Today China appears once again
to be embracing the values of global higher education. This is a
profoundly important development, as significant as China's economic
China can do more than aspire to attract 500,000
international students by 2020. As its universities become more open,
diverse and international they have the potential of becoming a truly
global commons. The vision: China, an intellectual and cultural
destination where students of all ages and nationalities are free to
explore the world of ideas, to study and learn together.
The author is executive vice-chancellor of Duke Kunshan University.
(China Daily European Weekly 04/04/2014 page9)
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