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Two-Way Flows of Higher Education Students in Mainland China in a Global Market: Trends, Characteristics and Problems

  • Mei LiEmail author
  • Yongjun Zhang
Chapter
Part of the Higher Education Dynamics book series (HEDY, volume 36)

Abstract

Global flows of students in higher education are growing at an unprecedented pace and sustained scale. This has far-reaching economic and academic implications for sending and receiving countries, institutions and students themselves. China is one of the largest countries which actively engages in both sending students abroad and receiving international students from all over of the world. As an emerging economic and political force in the new century, China is moving increasingly from a peripheral position to a more central one in the global network of international student mobility. This chapter first introduces theories of international student mobility. It then portrays the historical trajectory of China’s sending students abroad and attracting international students since the open door policy began in 1978. Between 1978 and 2005, the total number of international students studying in China was an estimated 871,000, while 933,000 Chinese studied abroad. The chapter compares the development characteristics of international students in China with that of Chinese students abroad, by main destination and source countries, the level of study, the field of subjects, the financial sources and so on. Having been one of the largest exporters and a modest importer of students for several decades, in a globalizing era China is now witnessing a more balanced development with two-way flows of students. Influxes and outflows of students are influenced by geopolitical, economic, social and cultural elements. The chapter briefly compares the similarities and differences of features of the two groups of students, and analyses the problems and prospects of two-way flows.

Keywords

High Education International Student World Trade Organization Chinese Student High Education System 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Theories of International Student Mobility

World System Theory

Phillip Altbach and certain other scholars working in the field of higher education studies draw on world systems theory to explain the unbalanced development and unequal relations between developing (or third world) country higher education systems, and those of the developed countries, and the effects of these inequalities in shaping patterns of student mobility (see, for example, Altbach 2004; Chen and Barnett 2000). World system theory divides nations into ‘core’ countries and ‘peripheral’ countries on the basis of their political economic status in the global system. The core countries are the developed countries. The peripheral countries are the developing countries. The global higher education system and the pattern of international student flows reflect the uneven development and unequal relations of politics, economy, education and culture in different countries.

Dominating the higher education international market, the developed countries are the major exporters of education and the major importers of international talents. Emerging countries (Singapore , South Korea , and Malaysia ) and developing countries (China , India , Africa and Latin American countries) are major importers of education, knowledge, technology, and major exporters of students and talents. The United States, Britain, Germany , France , Japan , Canada , Australia and other industrial countries have the major international market shares in this increasingly globalizing market. In 2006, the top eight host countries of international students were the United States (22%), Britain (14%), France (10%), Germany (10%), Australia (7%), China (6%), Japan (5%), and Canada (3%). The United States, UK and Australia absorbed 580,000, 280,000 and 230,000 international students, respectively (IIE 2006; UNESCO UIS 2006). Because of their huge demand for higher education, China and India have become the largest exporters of international students. Japan is not only an important sending country, but also one of the main receiving countries.

Education Markets and Positional Goods

Higher education has become part of the globalization process, through the cross-border matching of demand and supply. The global education market is not a single unified market, but is comprised by hierarchical and segmental niche markets with different echelons and categories. Cross-border higher education contains demand for and supply of various qualifications and certificates, including non-degree, associate degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctorate. Marginson (2006) identifies the educational suppliers on the global market into five categories, namely world market of elite universities, exporting national research universities, nationally bounded research universities, teaching-focused export institutions and lesser status national/local local institutions.

From the perspective of consumers, higher education in general and cross-border higher education in particular acting as positional goods can bring to individual students economic benefits such as employment prospects and income advantages, social status and cultural capital. Marginson (2006) argues that with the increasing integration of global markets, higher education institutions’ national competition and global competition interact and complement each other. In a positional market, there is severe competition between both producers and consumers. Producer universities compete for the custom of preferred ‘customers’. Students compete for entry to preferred institutions (Marginson 2006). According to WTO trade rules, higher education institutions and their consumers co-produce market position, reputation and quality of educational products. Cross-border higher education services are a special form of trade in services. The production and consumption process are integrated: on the supply side cross-border education is a production process but to the students this is a consumption process (Marginson 2006). At the same time, student mobility in the job market also produces the market position and social reputation that feed into the supply side of education.

Push–Pull Model

In the literature on the cross-border mobility of students and talents, the push–pull model is a widely accepted analytical framework. The push–pull model argues that a combination of ‘push factors’ in students’ own countries and ‘pull factors’ in receiving countries shape individual students’ decisions to study abroad and also their choice of destinations (Altbach 1998, p. 240; Mazzarol and Soutar 2001). ‘Push factors’ in students’ own countries include a lack of higher education opportunities, poor quality local educational facilities, government policies and scholarships favourable to mobility, the perceived and actual comparative advantage of the value of a foreign degree in the job markets both home and abroad, the low level of internationalization of education, and so on. The ‘pull factors’ in receiving countries include scholarships, higher-quality education and advanced research conditions, the superiority of the social and economic environment, better employment opportunities and career prospects. ‘Push factors’ inspire student’s interests in foreign education but do not specify the destination, while ‘pull factors’ suggest the destination countries and educational institutions (Mazzarol and Soutar 2001).

Mazzarol and Soutar (2001, pp. 55–57) carried out investigations in China Taiwan , mainland China , Indonesia and India concerning the determinant factors that affected students’ choices of foreign education. They found that the four most important push factors were: (1) a perception that an overseas course of study is better than a local one; (2) students’ ability (or inability) to gain entry to programs in their own countries; (3) a desire to gain better understanding of the west; and (4) an intention to migrate after graduation.

Another study of particular relevance focused on high-achieving undergraduate students in Tsinghua University, Beijing (Zheng 2003). It indicated that among 241 respondents, 51.5% intended to continue their studies abroad, 38.5% had no intention to do so and 10.0% were unsure. The survey showed that the important factors impacting on respondents’ intention of study abroad were: economic factors (29%), education factors (27%), personal factors (15%), social environment (13%), cultural factors (9%), and political factors (7%) (Zheng 2003, p. 226).

While the push–pull model provides an instructional framework for understanding the macro determinant factors of cross-border student mobility, it neglects the nature of the mobility process on the micro level and the internal elements of actors’ particular personal characteristics. The individual students’ characteristics include socioeconomic status, academic ability, motivation, aspiration, gender and age. The decisions that students finally make depend partly on the interplay of the push and pull factors at home and the push and pull factors abroad, and also on the students’ personal characteristics and perceptions. An appropriate way of fully understanding the nature of a particular group of students’ mobility lies in exploring the dynamic interaction between the internal factors of a particular group of students and the external factors of push and pull.

Chinese Studying Abroad

In 1949–1977, the first 30 years after the founding of People’s Republic of China , China’s policies were full of political and ideological colour. Power was centralized. Thus policies concerning studying abroad, and the pattern of student activity, were affected greatly by the political situations at home and abroad, including Sino-foreign relations. In the 1950–1957 period, students were mainly sent to the former Soviet-led socialist countries, with 7,053 studying in the former Soviet Union. From 1972 to 1976, China sent 1,629 students to 49 countries, including UK, France , Italy, Germany , Belgium, Austria, Japan , Canada and Spain (Zhang 1984, p. 666). All aspects of recruiting and management of study abroad, such as subjects studied, the destination countries, student selection and returnees’ placement, were directly supervised by the central government.

During the 30 years of reform and opening up since 1978, the pattern of Chinese students studying abroad has exhibited very different features to the preceding period.

The Growth Trend

There has been a sustained increase of Chinese study abroad in the past three decades. Table 16.1 shows that the number of government-sponsored students was maintained at a relatively stable level, compared to the number studying abroad at their own expense during 1980–2006. The total number studying abroad grew rapidly because of the surge of self-funded students, growing from 6,124 in 1980 to 13,400 in 2006. The increase of Chinese study abroad is particularly significant since 1999, coinciding with the domestic expansion of higher education. There were a total of 706,772 Chinese studying abroad during the 1995–2006 period (China Education Yearbook, 1996–2007).

Destination Countries

The factors that affect Chinese students’ choices of destination countries include the following aspects: the historical, cultural, political and economic relations between China and the destination countries; the development of education and the advantages offered by the destination countries; educational costs and funding, such as tuition and scholarship policies; the language environment and the medium of instruction (the English-speaking countries have certain advantages); enrolment policy; and visa and immigration policy. Countries with relatively loose visa and immigration policies are more likely to attract international student applications.

Table 16.1

Chinese studying abroad: 1980–2006. (Sources: Government of China (1981–2007)

Year

Total number of students

Number of self-funded students

Number of government-sponsored students

Number of work-unit sponsored students

1980

6,124

4,000

2,124

1981

7,922

5,000

2,922

1982

8,326

6,000

2,326

1983

10,412

7,000

3,412

1984

9,950

6,877

3,073

1985

12,688

7,800

4,888

1986

14,676

10,000

4,676

1995

14,216

12,600

1,616

1996

20,905

13,600

1,905

5,400

1997

22,410

14,720

2,110

5,580

1998

17,622

11,443

2,639

3,540

1999

23,749

17,884

2,661

3,204

2000

38,989

32,293

2,808

3,888

2001

83,973

76,052

3,495

4,426

2003

117,346

109,200

3,002

5,144

2004

114,663

104,281

3,524

6,858

2005

118,557

106,500

3,979

8,078

2006

134,122

121,000

5,580

7,542

– Data not available

The recruiting and admission policies of higher education institutions vary from country to country. Some countries adopt more lenient recruiting and admission policies, and open the door to language students and precollege students, such as Australia and Japan . But some countries have adopted very strict selection criteria. In the 1970s and 1980s, students studying abroad were mainly young scholars, postgraduate students and undergraduate students who were sent abroad by government. This was mainly so-called ‘elite mobility’. Since the early 1990s, with the self-funded students as the main form of student outflow, more and more self-taught students, vocational school students and high school students have joined those flooding abroad. China’s study abroad movement has developed from elite education to the parallel evolution of two flows of students: the elite studying abroad and the massive outflow of self-supported students.

Table 16.2

Number of Chinese students at the major host countries: 1997–2006. (Source: Verbik and Lasanowski 2007)

 

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

Japan

22,323

22,810

25,907

32,297

44,014

58,533

70,814

77,713

80,592

74,292

Australia

3,828

5,273

4,633

6,191

11,640

23,332

31,255

41,562

54,274

63,543

US

42,503

46,958

51,001

54,466

59,939

63,211

64,757

61,765

62,523

62,582

UK

2,660

2,883

4,017

6,310

12,095

20,710

35,155

47,740

52,675

50,755

Germany

4,980

4,773

5,054

6,256

9,109

14,070

20,141

25,284

27,129

27,390

France

1,374

2,111

3,452

5,535

8,774

11,908

15,963

NZ

88

139

890

3,821

9,652

19,135

27,180

29,876

26,546

Canada

1,005

1,765

3,527

5,337

9,399

10,126

9,068

6,783

6,880

7,259

NZ = New Zealand, –indicates data not available

Table 16.2 shows the fast growth of Chinese students in the major host countries during the period of 1997–2006. All the major receiving countries are the industrialized countries. There are fierce competitions for the market share of Chinese students among these countries. The past decade has witnessed the fundamental growth of number of Chinese students at Australia and UK. Japan surpassed US as the first destination for Chinese students in 2003, meanwhile Canada lagged far behind of the other leading countries.

Sources of Funding: Public-Sponsored and Self-Funded Students

The difference between students who are publicly sponsored and those who study abroad at their own expense refers to whether the cost of studying abroad was funded by the Chinese governments, work units or by students themselves and other sources. All those financed by the sources other than Chinese governments and work unit are categorized as self-funded studying abroad (Zifeiliuxue). The sources of self-funded studying abroad include individual students and their families, the receiving governments, the receiving higher education institutions, international organizations, and so on. The rapid development of self-funded studying abroad reflects the market opening up that has resulted from China’s open door. Before 1978, there were very few cases of self-funded studying abroad. In the early 1980s, the number of students engaged in self-funded studying abroad started to increase, but most were children and relatives of overseas Chinese. In the mid 1980s, study abroad was opened to all those who met specific conditions; for example, college graduates had to pay training fees and fulfil a period of service before going abroad. After 1993 study abroad was unconditionally opened to all.

More than half of all overseas students studied at their own expense in the 1978–1986 period. From 1978 to 1992, the financial channels of studying abroad diversified, including national government-sponsored, local government-sponsored, work unit-funded, self-funded and overseas scholarships. The number of self-funded students increased rapidly. The central government has granted the work units more responsibility in financing and sending personnel to study abroad. The central government’s functions have transformed from direct control and constraint to facilitation, supervision and guidance. As to the issue of students’ returning home, it has become more flexible, focusing on policies to create an attractive return environment and supporting facilities.

Since 1992, the absolute number of students returning home has increased substantially, with an especially rapid increase in the number of students returning at their own expense. Table 16.3 shows that from 1996 to 2000, the proportion of students going abroad at their own expense increased from 65% to 83% of all study abroad students. Since 2001, the number of students at their own expense accounted for 90%. In 2006, the total number of studying abroad was 134,000, among which 121,000 people were doing so at their own expense, 558 people were government-funded and 7,542 were financed by their work units.

Table 16.3

Self-funded and public-sponsored students studying abroad, 1980–2006. (Sources: Ji, M. M. (ed.) (1997) Encyclopaedia of China Education Administration [Zhongguo Jiaoyu Xingzheng Quanshu]. Beijing: Economic Daily Press. pp. 1577 & 1592)

Year

Total number of students studying abroad

Number of self-funded students

Number of publicly sponsored students

Self-funded students as a proportion of all students studying abroad

(%)

 

Number of students funded by national government

Number of students funded by work units and local government

Total

 

1980

6,124*

4,000*

2,124

65

1982

8,326

6,000*

2,326

72

1984

10,289

6,877

3,073

68

1986

14,676

10,000*

4,676

68

1995

14,654

12,600

1,616

86

1996

20,905

13,600

1,905

5,400

7,305

65

1998

17,622

11,443

2,639

3,540

6,179

65

2000

38,989

32,293

2,808

3,888

6,696

83

2001

83,973

76,052

3,495

4,426

7,921

91

2003

117,307

109,200

3,002

5,144

8,146

93

2004

114,663

104,281

3,524

6,858

10,382

91

2005

118,500

106,500

3,979

8,078

12,057

90

2006

134,000

121,000

5,580

7,542

13,122

90

*Estimate only, –Data not available

Public-Sent Personnel and Returnees

Study abroad poses the dilemma of brain drain. This is particularly true for a developing country like China . On the one hand, China adheres to an open door policy, expecting that more professionals will be trained as a result of overseas education. On the other hand, the State government must take active and effective policies and measures to solve the problem of brain drain.

Table 16.4

National government-sponsored personnel studying abroad and returnees, 1978–2000. (Source: Authors’ edit from the original data in Ji 1997)

Year

Number of sponsored students studying abroad

Number of returnees

Returnees as a proportion of sponsored students studying abroad

(%)

1978

860

248

29

1979

1,777

231

13

1980

2,124

162

8

1981

2,922

1,143

39

1982

2,326

2,116

91

1983

2,633

2,303

87

1984

3,073

2,920

95

1985

4,888

1,424

29

1986

4,676

1,388

30

1987

4,703

1,605

34

1988

3,786

3,000

79

1989

3,329

1,756

53

1992

2,489

1,601

64

1993

2,398

1,878

78

1994

2,071

2,196

106

1995

2,054

2,160

105

1998

2,639

1,964

74

1999

2,661

1,558

96

2000

2,808

2,456

87

Total

17,120

14,813

87

Table 16.4 shows the number of state-sent students and the number and proportion returning for each year from 1978 to 2000. Since 1992 the proportion of students’ returning home has improved. This suggests that with improved policies in relation to studying abroad, and the sustained domestic social and economic development, there is a rising tide of overseas Chinese talent returning to the homeland.

In summary, since the 1980s, Chinese study abroad has been large scale, exhibiting wide scope, diverse destinations and multi-levels of study. It has taken place mostly at a young age; and in the majority of cases at the students’ own expense. Policies and regulations have been gradually improved. Government management has begun to focus on macro-regulation and intermediary management. The establishment of China Scholarship Council in 1996 marked the transfer from direct state management to indirect management through a professional agency under the guidance of national policies. In 2001, following China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) , China’s policy on international education has been required to follow international rules, and integrate into the international framework and system of trade. The market in Chinese educational consumption has been gradually opened up, and progressively integrated into the worldwide market. Thus the market changes from disorder to order, and from the partially open to the all-round opening up.

International Students Studying in China

From 1950 to 2006, China received a total of 1,047,010 international students from various countries. Figure 16.1 shows that since 2000, notwithstanding the impact of SARS in 2003, the number of international students in China has shown sustainable growth, from 52,150 in 2000 to 162,695 in 2006. Especially since 2004, not only has China received more overseas students, but also the students’ structure of subjects, original countries, and levels of study has developed. In 2004, the number of international students reached 110,844, an increase of 33,129 (42.6%) from the level in 2003. This was the biggest increase in the past 10 years. In 2005, there were 141,087 foreign students, an increase of 30,243 (27.3%); in 2006 there were 162,695 overseas students, an increase of 21,608 (15.3%) (Ministry of Education 2005, 2006, 2007).
Fig. 16.1

Growth of international students in China , 2000–2006. (Source: The authors edit using date from the website of the Chinese Ministry of Education in China (www.moe.edu.cn))

Up to December 31, 2006, there were in total 162,695 students from 184 countries and regions studying in 519 colleges and universities and other teaching and research institutions in China , distributed in 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities (excluding Taiwan and Hong Kong, Macao Special Administrative Region) (MOE 2007). The following will describe the characteristics and changing tendency of foreign students studying in China during 2004 and 2006 (Ministry of Education 2005, 2006, 2007).

The Scale Increases Each Year, the Level of Study Is Not High

Among international students in China , the percentage of non-degree students is twice the proportion of degree students, and the proportion of graduate students is relatively low. In 2004, degree students accounted for 28.5% of all international students, with 22.9% at undergraduate level, 3.5% at masters level, and 1.7% at doctoral level (MOE 2005). In contrast, non-degree students accounted for 71.5%. Thus among degree students, four in five were undergraduates and less than one in five were postgraduate students. Among the non-degree students, a majority were visiting and short-term students. Advanced visiting students accounted for a very small number. This was a sharp contrast with the composition of Chinese students studying abroad. A majority of Chinese students studying abroad are postgraduate students, and the proportion of undergraduates is low.

However, changing trends suggest a more positive picture. The level of study of overseas students in China is improving year by year. During 2004 and 2006, the number of long-term students grew faster than that of short-term students. The growth rate of degree students is almost twice than the growth rate of non-degree students (see Table 16.5).

Table 16.5

International students in China by level of study in 2004–2006. (Sources: The authors edit from original data from China’s Ministry of Education (www.moe.edu.cn))

 

Long-term*

Short-term*

Degree-oriented

Non-degree-oriented

 

Number

(and %)

growth from previous year

Number

(and %)

growth from previous year

Number

(and %)

growth from previous year

Number

(and %)

growth from previous year

2004

76,486

(69%)

34,358

(31%)

31,616

(29%)

79,228

(71%)

2005

103,712

(74%)

35.59

37,375

(26%)

8.78

44,851

(32%)

41.86

96,236

(68%)

21.47

2006

119,733

(74%)

15.45

42,962

(26%)

14.95

54,859

(34%)

22.31

107,836

(66%)

12.05

*Long-term students study more than 6 months. All other students are short-term students

The Absolute Majority Are International Students at Their Own Expense

In 2004, China recruited 6,715 scholarship-based international students, accounting for 6.06% of the total. This included 6,540 long-term students and 175 short-term students. There were 104,129 students studying at their own expense, 93.94% of the total, of which 69,946 were long-term students, and 34,183 were short-term students.

In 2006 the number of international students in China increased by 21,608 (15.3%) compared to 2005. Among them, 8,484 students were funded by Chinese government scholarships, 1,266 more than 2005, an increase of 14.9%; while 154,211 students studied at their own expense, an increase of 20,342, or 13.2%.

They Mainly Come From Asia and the Developed Countries

Table 16.6 shows, in 2004, the top 22 countries in sending students to China were 14 Asian countries and eight developed countries (the United States, Russia, Germany , France , Canada , Australia , Britain and Italy). South Korea , Japan , the United States, Vietnam and Indonesia were the top five countries for the four consecutive years from 2003 to 2006 inclusive.

Table 16.6

Countries sending more than 500 students to China in 2004. (Source: Ministry of Education (2005))

 

Country

Associate degree

Bachelor

Master

Doctoral

visiting students

Short-term students

All students

1

Sth. Korea

99

12,467

1,203

695

20,160

8,993

43,617

2

Japan

32

2,069

277

85

7,913

8,683

19,059

3

USA

15

219

78

75

2,678

5,415

8,480

4

Vietnam

7

1,936

196

81

1,895

267

4,382

5

Indonesia

156

672

25

6

1,690

1,201

3,750

6

Thailand

36

212

81

28

1,223

791

2,371

7

Russia

4

523

21

4

917

819

2,288

8

Germany

10

28

32

12

1,101

1,004

2,187

9

France

2

107

21

4

857

963

1,954

10

Nepal

0

1,283

135

12

49

16

1,495

11

Philippines

25

252

3

0

250

845

1,375

12

Mongolia

4

405

74

28

694

128

1,333

13

Malaysia

1

814

94

29

118

185

1,241

14

Canada

1

198

54

45

331

576

1,205

15

Australia

3

60

31

9

407

649

1,159

16

UK

2

63

6

9

403

563

1,046

17

Singapore

7

227

141

62

126

366

929

18

Pakistan

0

648

51

144

40

11

894

19

India

1

655

15

18

54

22

765

20

Italy

0

8

6

1

341

324

680

21

North Korea

0

274

32

46

257

17

626

22

Laos

1

260

92

23

102

31

509

The Main Subjects Studied Are Chinese Language and Applied Sciences

Table 16.7 shows that in 2004–2006, the liberal arts, medicine, economics, engineering, management and law were the top five subjects for international students. Liberal arts accounted for three-fourths; a majority were language courses students. The number of students of medicine, including both Chinese and Western medicine, grew at the fastest rate, doubling in the 3 years. In the same period, economics majors, management majors and engineering students also grew rapidly. In contrast, the number and proportion of foreign students in agriculture, science, philosophy, history and education, and other subjects was small, and there was slow growth in those fields. It seems that the attractiveness of natural sciences and technology in Chinese universities is yet to be cultivated. In contrast, most of the Chinese students studying abroad cluster in natural sciences and technology subjects.

Table 16.7

The subject distribution of international students in 2004–2006. (Source: Ministry of Education (2005))

Subject categories

2004

2005

2006

Liberal arts *

83,266

99,816

114,846

Medicine #

10,971

18,032

20,355

Economics

4,525

6,665

7,308

Engineering

3,519

4,455

5,803

Management

2,838

3,555

5,954

Law

2,438

2,906

3,667

Education

992

3,236

1,730

History

742

755

904

Philosophy

700

546

681

Science

555

741

1,007

Agriculture

298

380

440

*Liberal arts include Chinese language and arts. # Medicine includes both Chinese medicine and Western medicine

International Students Cluster in Beijing, Shanghai and Key State Institutions

The regional distribution of international students in China is very uneven, mainly in the east and northeast coastal areas (see Table 16.8). Society, economy and education in these areas are more developed, and there are more colleges and universities. The north-eastern region, close to East Asia, has a geographical advantage in attracting Japanese and Korean student. In 2004, more than 50% of all international students gathered in Beijing and Shanghai. Some western provinces had very few students.

Table 16.8

The top ten host provinces /autonomous regions/municipals of international students in 2004. (Source: Ministry of Education (2005))

Provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities

Number of international students

Proportion of all students international students

%

Beijing

37,041

33.42

Shanghai

22,197

20.03

Tianjin

7,371

6.65

Jiangsu

6,051

5.46

Liaoning

5,122

4.62

Guangdong

3,933

3.55

Jilin

3,286

2.96

Shandong

3,098

2.79

Fujian

2,805

2.53

Heilongjiang

2,785

2.51

The 29 colleges and universities which host more than 1,000 international students are mainly key state colleges and universities, and colleges and universities specifically focused on language and culture. Among the top 15 colleges and universities receiving international students in 2004 (Table 16.9), 11 of them are the ‘985 project’ institutions (the most distinguished research-intensive universities in China ), three are language and culture universities, and one is a foreign trade university. This suggests that the quality of education and reputation of institution is still the main factor impacting international students’ choice of destination institution.
Table 16.9

Universities with the largest number of international students in 2004 (Source: Ministry of Education (2005))

 

Institution

Number of international students

Proportion of total number

(%)

1

Beijing Language and Culture University

9,883

8.92

2

Fudan University

4,634

4.18

3

Peking University

4,590

4.14

4

Shanghai Jiaotong University

4,005

3.61

5

Beijing Normal University

3,689

3.33

6

Tsinghua University

2,842

2.56

7

East China Normal University

2,346

2.12

8

Nankai University

1,912

1.72

9

Tongji University

1,842

1.66

10

Zhejiang University

1,792

1.62

11

Shanghai International Studies University

1,680

1.52

12

Foreign Economic and Trade University

1,602

1.45

13

Beijing Foreign Language University

1,565

1.41

14

Xiamen University

1,481

1.34

15

Jiling University

1,431

1.29

To recruit and host foreign students is one important aspect of international education cooperation and exchanges. As expressed in 2006 official documentation concerning the "expansion of scale and improvement of the level, quality assurance, standardized management" of international students in China , the Ministry of Education is focused on exploring new channels for international students coming to China , encouraging foreign governments and Chinese enterprises to set up scholarships for international students, further optimizing the study environment in China , improving the quality of international education, actively advertising in foreign countries and helping international graduates to find jobs in China . In 2007 the national government increased scholarships for international students.

Comparison of Chinese Students Abroad with International Students in China

As demonstrated by the above data on characteristics of Chinese students studying abroad and international students in China , there are both similarities and differences between the two groups. These will now be summarized.

Similarities Between Outflow and Inflow Students

There are several similarities between the outflowing and inflowing students. Firstly, both Chinese students studying abroad and overseas students studying in China are characterized by large scale, fast growth, a wide range of sending and receiving countries, and the transition from elite groupings to a parallel development of elite group and mass group.

Second, central government policies both in relation to sending Chinese students to study abroad, and hosting international students in China , have gradually improved.

Third, with the opening up of Chinese market and gradual decentralization of administration, the market mechanism has gradually formed and it now plays an increasingly important role in matching the demand for and supply of cross-border higher education. In relation to both the supply side of the market (education institutions, and subjects available) and the demand side (individual students and their family) there are more diversified choices and there is fiercer competition.

Fourth, students who study at their own expense are now the clear majority of both Chinese students abroad and international students in China . Among the two groups, students studying at their own expense account for 90%.

Fifth, for both groups, in terms of geographical distribution and the host institutions distribution, there is high level of clustering and concentration. Both Chinese students abroad and international students in China are concentrated in the first-class universities and the educationally developed regions. In 2004, a vast majority of the 29 universities hosting 1,000 more students in China are 985 project universities. International students in the United States also show a similar picture—that is, well-known colleges and universities attract the main group of international students. In 2006/2007, the 156 colleges and universities in the United States receiving more than 1,000 international students attracted 58% of the total number of international students in America (Chow and Marcus 2007).

Sixth, there is a core network of influx and outflows. Some of the major destination countries for Chinese students are also the main countries from which China attracts international students. The top seven countries for hosting Chinese students, all major developed capitalist countries, are the United States, UK, Australia , Canada , Germany , France and Japan . These seven countries are also among the top 20 countries from which international students come to China . At the same time there is much diversity overall. After joining the WTO, Chinese students studying abroad and international students coming to China have certainly entered the era of globalization, with more 184 countries involved in higher education exchange with China .

Differences Between Outflow and Inflow Students

There are also significant differences between the two groups.

First, Chinese students abroad reached the mass level earlier than did overseas students studying in China . Chinese study abroad has been developing for 60 years since the formation of the People’s Republic of china in 1949 and in particular, the mass and self-funded study dimensions have grown rapidly since the early of the 1980s. Even though China recruited a small number of overseas students from the developing and former socialist world in Mao’s era; a large scale number of overseas students studying in China began only in the 1990s. It has developed especially rapidly since the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Second, there is a structural unbalance between Chinese studying abroad and international students in China , in the levels of study and the fields of study. With regard to the level of degree pursued, Chinese students studying abroad are mainly degree students (undergraduates and postgraduates), with the majority being postgraduate students. International students studying in China are mainly non-degree students who undertake less than 1-year experience in China . In terms of subject distribution, Chinese students abroad study a wide distribution of specialized subjects; while overseas students coming to China tend to study subjects with Chinese characteristics in the humanities, language and medicine).

Third, there are differences between the outflow and inflow groups in financial support policies and in the level of maturity of the market mechanism. In many developed countries, support policies and scholarships and subsidies are well-developed. Governments and institutions have clear goals and targets in relation to the kind and quality of the professional talents they want to recruit. Their scholarships and immigration policies are designed to attract the desired skilled personnel. The marketization of higher education is much advanced. The academic and professional resources and climate are favourable. All these factors have led to a massive outflow of qualified personnel from China . In contrast, in China , scholarships and funding system of international students are underdeveloped. The marketization of higher education is at an early stage. The autonomy of the universities in international student recruitment is yet to develop. Market-oriented strategy at institutional level lags far behind that of the colleges and universities in developed countries.

Fourth, there are differences in the implications for brain drain and brain gain. The rate of returnees from Chinese study abroad has increased but is still not high. This is particularly true of those who are self-funded for study abroad. The return rate of government-sponsored studying abroad is about three-fourths but the return rate of self-funded students is less than one in three. The majority of international students studying in China returned to their own countries after graduation.

Problems and Suggested Solutions

Brain Drain , the Intellectual Diaspora and the Global Knowledge Neural Network

Global outflow of students and intellectuals caused by overseas education is a universal problem in many countries across the world. We need to consider this issue from a holistic and dynamic perspective. The negative effects should not always be emphasized. It is important to take positive measures not only to attract overseas talents to return to China but also to help them to serve the country in various forms abroad. This is crucial not only in relation to government-sponsored students and scholars, but also for privately sponsored studying abroad.

Research on international education conceptualizes the phenomenon of students staying abroad less as brain drain, more as ‘brain circulation’(Zweig and Fung 2004; Welch and Zhang 2008). Welch and Zhang adopt the concepts of ‘knowledge diaspora’ and ‘global knowledge neural network’ when studying brain drain in developing countries overseas. The notion of ‘diaspora’, embodying the key idea of talent located ‘in-between’ staying overseas and returning, emphasizes the temporary and dynamic nature of overseas study and work. In this vision, global outflow students are all nodes within an international knowledge neural network and the era of global information. This offers the sending nation valuable intellectual resources with tremendous potential. In the form of the global knowledge neural network, intellectual outflow can play a role in narrowing the centre-periphery gap in science and education. The key to connecting with and attracting outflow intellectual labour is knowledge and technology transfer policy. Chinese scholars serving in overseas high education and scientific research institutions can maintain close academic ties to domestic counterparts and conduct research projects and cooperation with related research institutions

Overall, the patterns of China’s reverse brain drain since the 1990s, and the phenomenon of researchers and scholars serving the country when studying abroad and staying overseas in various forms, not only indicates China’s socio-economic development and the enhanced attractiveness of the nation to both Chinese students abroad and international students, but also shows that the nation’s policies are moving in a favourable direction.

Social Class and Cross-border Higher Education

Social stratification in self-funded cross-border higher education is much more significant than that of domestic higher education, because the cost of self-funded studying abroad is several times higher than that of domestic education. In 2004, the average yearly tuition fee of regular higher institutions in mainland China was about 6,106 Yuan ($738).1 That of the top 100 institutions was around 5,066 Yuan ($612). In contrast, the annual tuition fee charged by the University of Hong Kong was 70,000 Yuan ($8,458) for fee-paying mainland undergraduates; and in the Macao University of Science and Technology it was 42,000 Yuan ($5,075). It is estimated that the cost of overseas students in Australia and New Zealand is 100,000 Yuan ($12,085) per year, and the annual cost of studying in the United States is about 150,000–300,000 Yuan ($18,127–36,254) or even higher.

For mainland Chinese students, cross-border higher education is not only their study goal, but also their means of enhancing social status. Higher education in general, and elite national and transnational higher education in particular, is the most effective tool for achieving the goal of upward social mobility. In this process, fee-paying and scholarships become two different mechanisms for social stratification and social mobility. Students ’ accessibility to cross-border higher education is fundamentally related to their socio-economic background and academic performance. Self-financed students tend to come from affluent families. In contrast scholarship students come from a wide range of social-economic background. Full fee-paying studying abroad leads to social stratification, while scholarships lead to promote social mobility.

An empirical survey by Li and Bray found that due to the convertibility in different forms of capital and its inter-generational transmission and inheritance, it is the upper-middle classes—including cadres, professionals and businessmen—that predominantly secure opportunities for external higher education through their access to the various forms of capital (Li and Bray 2006). Scholarships open the way for upward mobility for students from the peasantry and the working class. But given the role played by self-support, in cross-border higher education, workers and peasants tend to be marginalized, more so than in national higher education because of the greater cost of cross-border study and living support.

While the research literature contains much concern about the relationship between social class and education opportunities within a national higher education system, as yet hardly any have paid attention to the social stratification and social class reproduction function of cross-border higher education. In the globalizing higher education market, which is growing rapidly, the impact of cross-border higher education on social stratification, social mobility and social class reproduction cannot be ignored.

Disequilibrium of Higher Education Export and Import in China

There is a serious trade deficit in relation to educational services in China . The structure of inflows and outflows is unbalanced. Studying abroad has exhibited fast growth, large scale and covers a wide range of subjects and destination countries. Brain drain coexists with brain gain. Recent years have witnessed a rapid growth of international students, as noted, but the quality of educational export badly needs to be improved and structure of export should be modified. There is clustering at a low level of study, and from certain source countries. The international competitiveness of Chinese higher education institutions is weak. Attractiveness to foreign students is low. Policies and management can be improved. The Chinese government and the various colleges and universities need to seriously consider how to enhance the competitiveness of China’s higher education by taking proper strategies and policy measures.

More attention needs to be paid to the international students’ academic and socio-cultural adaptation in Chinese system and environments; and to facilitate accommodation of the international students, and their integration with domestic students. China should aim for balance between exporting and importing higher education.

The Thorny Problem of Moving from a Peripheral to a Central Position

The early twenty-first century has seen China emerging onto the political arena of the world. In the Western media, this is often perceived as a threat to the industrial countries. In its in-depth interaction with industrialized world and further integration into the global market and knowledge community, China is destined to face daunting challenges and difficulties. This is true in higher education exchange as it is in many other areas. On the one hand, China enjoys increasing attractiveness to international students and improved higher education quality. On the other hand, Chinese higher education institutions face fiercer competition and challenges. With the growth in the numbers of students studying abroad and coming to China , China is playing a more important role in the global stage. Both student inflow and student outflow will keep on growing.

Along with the surging tide of globalization, and China’s increasing international strength, its international influence in the knowledge community is increasing. On the one hand, developed countries cannot ignore and evade China’s role and growing influence. China enjoys certain favourable conditions in future international competition. Its profound cultural depth enhances its absorption ability. It exhibits sustained economic development. There is a strong political power and increasingly sound policies and systems, a harmonious social environment and the continuing maturity of the market system.

China is moving from the global periphery into the global centre. In this process, on the one hand it will be suppressed by the developed countries. On the other hand, domestic higher education sector in China is facing the challenge of quality problems. The arduous task of mass higher education, the low international level, lack of competitiveness and comparative advantages in the world will render very thorny China’s pathway in moving from the periphery to the centre of the international knowledge and higher education system.

Footnotes

  1. 1.

    . 1.00 U.S. Dollar = 8.275 Yuan RMB.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Higher Education, School of Education SciencesEast China Normal UniversityShanghaiChina

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