Is China The New Leader In International Education?

Foreign students are flocking to China. China has gone all out to market itself as a great place to study. Is China set to become the World Leader in International Education?

The foreign student is known in China as liuxuesheng. It seems the rise in the number of foreign students these days is as steep as the growing numbers of local Chinese graduates.

Higher education has been expanding rapidly in China. The numbers of college graduates has swollen from 805,000 to 7.65 million over the past decade.

In 2004, the number of foreign students was 111,000 but by 2014, it had risen to 377,000 according to the Institute of International Education.

Most of the students were from South Korea, followed by the U.S., Thailand, Russia and Japan. It is now China’s goal to meet the magic number of 500,000 foreign students by the year 2020. Will it succeed in this goal?

Chinese Universities are more and more being hailed as the top universities of the world. In 2016, Tsinghua University in Beijing edged out MIT for top spot in the U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of the best global universities for engineering. Three other Chinese institutions also broke into the top 10.

Scholarship funds like the Yenching Scholars at Peking University also beckon international students. The scholars (out of which one third are Chinese) are housed in the former imperial gardens of China’s first modern university while they participate in a one- or two-year, all-expenses-paid master’s program in Chinese studies, taught in English.

Another fund has been established by American financier Stephen Schwarzman, chairman of the Blackstone Group. The program has a $450 million endowment. The advisory board has Henry Kissinger, Nicolas Sarkozy, Yo-Yo Ma. The mission? To cultivate “the next generation of global leaders.”

Some experts criticize the quality of the Chinese education. They say that it is inspired by rote learning and is therefore intellectually unstimulating and parochial in a globalizing world. Chinese universities seem to dull the edge of intellectually superior students within 2 years of college study.

“China needs a huge reform in education,” says Harvard education professor Haiyan Hua. “Not many Chinese parents and children have trust in their university system.”

Restrictions on intellectual freedom may also slow down the country in its bid to reach the 2020 target. Now and then authorities still attempt to restrict free thinking ideas.

Last year, China’s then-education minister Yuan Guiren warned professors to shun books that “disseminate Western values.” This stirred public outrage.

The scholarships also are dogged by charges of elitism.

American and European schools setting up branch campuses, including Duke University’s collaboration with Wuhan University and New York University’s Shanghai campus are also giving stiff competition to China’s universities.

For the moment, the United States leads among all nations in educating international students. Some 975,000 foreigners are enrolled on American campuses, including more than 300,000 Chinese nationals.

Britain hosts nearly 495,000 foreign students, while China ranks third.

Meanwhile, India too is gradually emerging as a preferred destination for foreign students. Most students are from the South Asian region. The growth in the number of foreign students in India has been impressive.

The data for 2011‐12 shows that within a year, India received 5625 more students, an increase of almost 20.43% from the last year. By 2014-2015, the total number of foreign students was 132,888, a 13.6% share of the Asian foreign students education market as compared to the 31.2% figure of China.

These students come from 153 countries. India is slowly expanding not only in terms of the number of students but also the number countries from which these students come.

According to the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2011‐12, Nepal contributed the highest percentage of foreign students in India.

Of the total foreign students, nearly 19% were from Nepal, followed by, in descending order, Bhutan, Iran, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Sudan and Iraq.

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