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Chinese students still drawn to US universities, but growth rate slowing

More than 350,000 Chinese enrolled at seats of learning in America in 2016-17, but safety fears are making some people think twice

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 11:03pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 11:36pm

China continued to provide the lion’s share of foreign students to US universities in the 2016-17 academic year, but their number grew at a slower rate than previously, a study has shown.

Education consultants suggested the slowdown might have been triggered by an increase in the number of options available to young people as well as growing safety concerns among their parents.

Of the more than 1 million foreign students who enrolled at universities in the United States in the period, 350,755, or about 35 per cent, were Chinese, the Open Doors study by the Institute of International Education, a non-profit organisation supported by the US government, said.

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The total – which comprised 142,851 undergraduates, 128,320 postgraduates and almost 80,000 non-degree students – represented an increase of 6.8 per cent from 2015-16, but that was lower than the 8.1 per cent gain recorded 12 months earlier.

The number of Indian students saw the fastest rate of growth, expanding more than 12 per cent to over 185,000.

Gu Huini, founder of ZoomIn Academy, an education consultancy based in Shanghai, said the US was still a popular destination for many mainland students, but no longer the top choice for his clients.

“In the past two years, more and more parents are asking us about Canadian universities,” he said.

“Canada is their new favourite, as it offers lower living costs than large US cities and is safer than the US in people’s minds.”

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Parents were becoming increasingly anxious about security issues in the US, especially since the Las Vegas shooting and the disappearance of Zhang Yingying from her University of Illinois campus, Gu said.

The 26-year-old went missing in June and authorities in the United States said she is presumed dead. A man has been arrested and charged with her kidnapping.

“When parents choose schools for their kids, they ask me which state or city in the US is safer,” Gu said. “Security is a higher consideration for them than the education industry might think.”

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According to a separate survey conducted by the institute of about 500 campuses across the US, the number of foreign students who enrolled this autumn – for the 2017-18 intake – fell by about 7 per cent from the previous year. The decrease followed a dip of 3.3 per cent in the autumn of 2016, which was the first downturn recorded by the organisation since it began reporting such data in 2005.

Some people suggested the slide might be attributable to the US administration’s move to ban students from Muslim majority nations.

However, Allan Goodman, the institute’s president, was quoted by The New York Times as saying it was too early to make such an assumption, adding that part of the reason for the decline was that governments in Saudi Arabia and Brazil had reduced their spending on scholarship programmes.