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  • Jul 12, 2014
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CommentInsight & Opinion

More Chinese students want a US education, but fewer stay for a job

Hassan Siddiq says American universities today welcome the cash and exposure foreigners bring

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 November, 2013, 4:37am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 November, 2013, 4:37am

At the peak of the Cultural Revolution, it would have been impossible to envision a mass exodus of Chinese-educated youth to universities in the United States, where capitalism reigned supreme.

Fast forward to today, and many Chinese students skip local university entrance exams and apply to American colleges, which leave no stone unturned in recruiting them. The factors behind the change have as much to do with shifts in financial power as with the emphasis on diversity touted by the universities.

In 2007, 140,000 students from China went abroad for higher education. In 2012, about 400,000 studied abroad, 95 per cent of whom were self-sponsored, according to figures from the Chinese Ministry of Education. Nearly half decided to go to the US; Australia and the UK are the second and third most popular destinations respectively.

The growth in Chinese students pursuing studies in the US has been exponential during the past decade: China sent 60,000 students to the US in 2000, almost all graduate students sponsored by the government; in 2012, 194,000 Chinese students went to the US, with most of the growth coming from self-funded undergraduate students.

Overall, China started to lead all nations in sending students to US universities in 2008. Today, it sends five times more students to US institutions than the second-largest source, according to US State Department statistics.

Chinese students are choosing the US over other developed countries because of familiarity with US brands. "The main reason the US is more popular is simply because there is a greater choice of recognised brands … and many more universities in total," says William Vanbergen, who runs a chain of admissions consulting offices and international schools in China. "Australia is only considered by people with less disposable income or those aiming for immigration," he adds, alluding to Australia's open immigration policies.

Chinese students also prefer the US because the universities offer more academic choices. In the UK, students are generally expected to choose a major at enrolment and stay focused on it during the course of the programme. In the US, on the other hand, most allow students to pick a major at the end of the first or second year.

For their part, US universities are working hard to maximise their share of paying Chinese students. Recruiters understand that despite the recent growth, the number is a fraction of the 10 million students who take the entrance exam for Chinese universities every year. They also understand that an ever-increasing proportion of Chinese families have a higher purchasing power.

The need to penetrate the Chinese student market has been further exacerbated by the financial crisis and budget cuts at home. Some of the largest increases in foreign students are seen at public universities with severe funding cuts by state legislatures.

Public universities are particularly eager in welcoming foreign students, who lend international cachet and can also be charged higher out-of-state tuition. Like out-of-state US residents, international students pay twice as much as in-state residents.

Non-resident domestic students could fill these seats too, though universities do not see why they should be given preference. As Michael K. Young, president of the University of Washington, told The New York Times: "Is there any advantage to our taking a kid from California versus a kid from China? You'd have to convince me, because the world isn't divided the way it used to be."

Instead, foreign students are seen as assets who can help prepare local students for a highly connected world.

The US attracts huge numbers of foreign students, but with stringent caps on work visas, does not take advantage of these trained individuals in the workplace. So perhaps it works best for all that the latest cohort of Chinese students no longer yearns to work in the US.

Having immersed themselves in English language and American culture, the students take advantage of increasing opportunities at home. For decades, the rate of return to China remained low as students with advanced degrees did not see opportunities for research at home. Last year, more than 272,000 Chinese returned after completing their education abroad, 86,700 more than in 2011; a 46 per cent increase, according to the Ministry of Education.

Collectively, these students hold the key to transforming China. "This is where the action is," Vanbergen concluded. "There is a huge shortage of bilingual, bicultural talent required to take China into the next stage of development from an export-based to a domestic consumption-based economy. Students with these backgrounds are ideally positioned to fill this demand."

Hassan Siddiq studied grand strategy at Yale College and is the founder of www.dailythem.es, a peer-to-peer community focused on writing better. Reprinted with permission from YaleGlobal Online. http://yaleglobal.yale.edu


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This article is now closed to comments

This article gives good data on the numbers of students leaving China for their education. Having watched this growth for several decades it has been breath-taking. But the article does not address one of the reasons so many Chinese students return home after finishing their education--they have to. There is no other choice. In my experience of working with star students from China, many of them would love to stay in the US for some job experience afterward. But the restrictions on work visas are so limited now in the US that most do not have this option. It is, in other words, not a choice for students when they return home. There are no other options. The restrictions on job opportunities and training in the US will make at least some students and parents think twice about investing in an education that does not offer the vast majority anything but a degree in hand.
I will not rule out the great attraction for US universities by Chinese students must include good experiences of graduates who through word of mouths pass on to their friends and classmates in China.
Allow me to do the same. It is just a coincidence. I happen to be an alumnus of University of Washington for my undergrad studies of which its president is reported he found no difference in accepting foreign students or American students. UW in Seattle is rated as one of the best public university with an extraordinary choice in areas of study. Its old campus being located along a lake perhaps is the most beautiful campus in US. Tuition is relatively cheaper than private university.
Talk show host Michael Medved, a Yale grad in the 1960s sent 2 of his 3 kids to UW. According to Medved private schools have become relatively much more expensive than public schools in the past 50 years and there isn't much of a quality gap. However, if one was really smart and so inclined one would go to a 2 year school and learn how to be a technologist: X-ray technician, welder, electrician, tool and die maker etc. Those hands-on skills are most in demand in the U.S. and in many other countries. If you must learn sociology or medievel French literature there are always weekends and evening for those pursuits. Just make sure you keep your distance from the remote control and there's lots one can learn on his own. Universities do not have a monopoly on the opportunity to learn.
Seattle is one of my favorite cities in the US. Though thousands of miles away, I am fantasizing ordering a dozen oysters on the half shell at Elliot's by the ocean this very moment. Perhaps a couple of hate-China readers would challenge my statement that I had never set foot in Seattle, just as they did try denying my presence in New York City.
Seattle has had been rated as the best city in US for many consecutive years. Everything there, natural or otherwise is genuine -- what you see is what you get. Asian culture is well respected making the city a very civilized place to live for ALL.
My favorite in seafood in Seattle is salmon and king crab anytime.


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