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China’s “open arms” policy succeeds in numerical terms

Moving a step closer to its national target of attracting 500 000 foreign students by 2020, China’s Ministry of Education announced in late February that more than 290 000 foreign students studied in China in 2011, a 10.38% increase from the previous year’s figure.  The 2011 number does not include foreign students present in China’s Special Administrative Regions (SARs) such as Hong Kong and Macau, which have their own education systems.

Among the total 292 611 students, 118 837 (40.61%) were degree-seeking students, which can be further broken down to 88 461 enrolled in undergraduate programmes, 23 453 enrolled in graduate programmes, and 6 923 enrolled in doctoral programmes. This implies that over half of the foreign students were in short-term mobility programmes. The number of scholarship holders is also reported to have grown to 25 687, an increase of some 15% from 2010.

In terms of geographical spread, the number of students from Asia accounts for 64.21% of the total. This is evident in the number of Korean students (62 442), which is the largest sending country. Still, in 2011, double-digit growth was recorded in the number of students from the USA and Africa, as compared to 2010, while Europe stands as the second largest sending region; notably, France and Germany sent more than 5 000 students in 2011.

China sees the internationalisation of higher education (including student mobility) as strategically important for the country’s agendas related to higher education reform, diplomacy and trade. For example, quantitative targets have been set with the USA and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, from which China hopes to receive a total of 300 000 students in the coming years. More broadly, Chinese higher education institutions are encouraged to set up overseas programmes in a number of priority areas (such as Chinese language, trade, tourism and some specialised fields, including Chinese medicine). Within China, institutions are allocated additional funding to develop courses taught in Chinese as well as foreign language-taught programmes. And now in 2012, the development of a policy framework and sound management practices to facilitate the establishment of joint degree programmes with overseas institutions has come into focus.

Ministry of Education, PR China (Statistics of foreign students in China) (in Chinese) Ministry of Education, PR China (Work Plan 2012) (in Chinese) Ministry of Education, PR China (Speech by Hao Ping, Vice-Minister of Education) (in Chinese)