University of Georgia wants to tempt Chinese students to former Soviet Republic with debut at Hong Kong education expo

Western Asian country hopes to take advantage of being in China’s Belt and Road Initiative to attract more Chinese students

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 July, 2017, 6:12pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 July, 2017, 3:53pm

For the first time, the western Asian country of Georgia is taking part in the Hong Kong International Education Expo, eager to lure students to study there amid stiff competition from destinations better known to attendees.

The University of Georgia set up a booth at this year’s expo at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, which drew some 93 exhibitors. Over 4,000 attendees were expected at the two-day event that kicked off on Sunday.

Georgia is a participating country in China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” – an ambitious global trade plan linking economies across Asia. The university hoped to take advantage of the initiative to bring more Chinese students to the former republic of the Soviet Union.

Giorgi Imedashvili, head of the University of Georgia’s international students’ office, observed that “almost half of the international students in the world are Chinese”.

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He explained that China’s trade plan would help raise awareness of Georgia, adding such exposure was “important because we’re a very small country and half the world do not know about us”.

Imedashvili said most international students at the University of Georgia came from the Middle East and Nigeria, with only one Chinese enrolled.

We’re here to advertise
Giorgi Imedashvili, University of Georgia

But he hoped to boost numbers from the world’s most populous nation through the university’s debut appearance at the annual expo.

However, he and his colleagues said they had found it difficult to persuade parents and students to consider the university. But he added that the hesitation was not surprising.

“This is our first time in China, and we’re here to advertise,” Imedashvili said. “We’re just checking the market.”

One family at the expo said they were unfamiliar with Georgia and more interested in sending their son to a university in a Western country, especially the United Kingdom.

Corence Wong, general manager of expo organiser Neway Trade Fairs, acknowledged Britain’s strong standing among event attendees.

“The UK is the most popular destination, not just for university but also boarding schools,” he said.

“But in view of the recent terrorist attacks ... I’ve heard from some of the exhibitors here who are doing overseas consultancy, parents are switching to Australia or Canada.”

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Imedashvili believed safety would be a selling point for his university after the attacks this year in Manchester and London. He also noted Hongkongers were accustomed to one of the lowest crime rates in the world.

Still, Wong advised it might take “a couple of years” before belt and road countries could attract students to their universities, saying those countries would need time to develop projects that would win over people for study abroad and investment purposes.