As more opt to study overseas, China must find way to bring talent home

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 April, 2015, 1:29am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 April, 2015, 1:29am

China's rising prosperity has liberated educational aspirations. The mainland's middle class is now the most willing in Asia to send their children abroad for education, with 51 per cent of respondents hoping to do so, according to a corporate survey conducted on behalf of Visa last year. Hong Kong came second, with 39 per cent, and India third, at 34 per cent.

The United States was the most favoured destination, followed by Britain and Australia. Unsurprisingly, many parents surveyed said an overseas education afforded a broader outlook on life and wider career options. These benefits have always been true of travel and education.

But the trend bears deeper reflection. It does not appear to be rooted in a perception that there is something wrong with the Chinese education system. It is more about aspirational middle-class parents having the money to send their children overseas to enhance their future prospects and their command of English. There also is ample anecdotal evidence that worries about the long-term effects of chronic pollution are a factor.

The question is where this is leading China, economically and socially. Although it is relaxing the one-child policy, most parents are still raising one child. It is only natural that if they send them overseas to be educated they want them to come back. But amid globalisation, if offered a good post-graduate job with a healthier lifestyle and a new social network, many think again about coming home.

In smaller economies, educational emigration has led to concerns about a brain drain. Examples include Singapore and Australia, which also gain from Chinese emigration. With China's huge store of human resources, this may not be an urgent concern yet. But given that a country's most valuable resource is its people, and that the family remains the basic social and economic unit, it ought to give policymakers food for thought about the need to pursue balanced, sustainable growth.