Mainland pupils looking to study abroad earlier

Bluebook survey underscores concerns about competiveness of mainland education system

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 5:43am

More than one-in-four mainland secondary school pupils keen to study overseas say they would like to go while they are still in high school, according to a new survey.

The survey, released yesterday as part of the Bluebook of Global Talent printed by a publishing house affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, underscored the growth in the number of mainland pupils looking to study abroad at younger ages.

By sending their children overseas to finish secondary school, parents hope their children will better master the language and acclimatise to a foreign culture, giving them a competitive edge during university admissions.

The Bluebook's author, Wang Huiyao , said the number of mainland children studying in American high schools had grown from 65 in 2006 to nearly 24,000 last year, according to statistics from the US Department of Homeland Security.

"Even more strikingly, pupils with outstanding performance have edged out those from privileged families to lead the trend among younger pupils going to study overseas," said Wang, who is also director of the Centre for China and Globalisation.

The survey of 7,700 secondary school pupils found 27 per cent of those who wanted to study overseas hoped to head abroad before finishing secondary school. Another 61 per cent would like to study abroad as they finish high school. Only 12 per cent wanted to wait until finishing high school before going abroad.

A decade ago, mainlanders with the financial means usually did not go overseas until they began postgraduate studies.

The exodus of younger pupils should serve as a wake-up call to education authorities, said Sang Peng , president of the Beijing Overseas-Study Service Association. It shows the country's school system is failing to properly nurture domestic talent.

"Our school system in which we used to take much pride is now under the challenge of [globalisation]," Sang said. "It's time to tackle some of the issues that have dogged our schools and particularly the exam-centric school system."

Educators have also been alarmed by the widening gap between the number of mainland students studying abroad and the number of international students coming to China. The gap was more than 808,000 at the end of last year - up from 316,000 in 2004 - with 1.1 million mainlanders studying abroad.

Wang said the deficit showed how the mainland had yet to become competitive in cultivating global talent through top teaching institutions and educators.

He said that mainland universities employed about 11,300 foreign nationals as instructors, which accounted for less than 1 per cent of the total. By comparison, the number of expatriate teaching staff at Hong Kong universities exceeded 40 per cent of their total, he said.

The growth in mainlanders pursuing undergraduate degrees abroad has been particularly brisk, up 31 per cent last year, compared to 18 per cent for the nation as a whole, according to the Bluebook's data.

The mainland had been the leading supplier for international students in the United States for four years.

The number of mainlanders studying in the US grew 23 per cent, to 194,029 last year.