How many international students study in China?

 In News

China has one of the largest education systems in the world, boasting over 3000 universities as of 2022, a HE sector only comparable to the size of the US system.

In 2021, student enrolment data from the Chinese Ministry of Education stated there were 35 million undergraduate students and 3.3 million postgraduate students across the country.

Of that number, 255,720 were full-time international students, representing less than 1% of total enrolments nationally.

When compared to other global study destinations however, the number of international students is sizeable. China’s enrolment figure in 2021 was equivalent to 38% of the UK’s total international enrolment share, in what was a record recruitment year for the UK.

According to data from Studyportals, the number of programs taught in English in China has increased by 12% between 2021 and 2023, from approximately 2550 to nearly 2900.

This made China by far the largest provider of ETP globally in the same period – outside of countries where English is an official language. According to the British Council, there are over half a million TNE students in China and more than 1,000 joint programmes or institutes across the country.

In 2021, master’s programs accounted for 71% of English language programmes in China, a figure which fell to 61.5% in 2023. Short courses meanwhile increased from a negligible 0.6% up to 6.5%, and PhDs in English have grown from 2.3% up to 3.7%.

Tsinghua University, one of China’s elite institutions, is at the forefront of English language delivery. The university offers 32 programs delivered entirely in English, and 189 undergraduate modules and 550 postgraduate modules taught in English.

Despite these efforts, though, of the Tsingua’s 15,000 students, only 5% are international – perhaps more opportunity beckons?

The pandemic slowed growth

China could have been way ahead of its current mark had the pandemic not hampered its recruitment growth. The country had a target to reach 500,000 international enrolments annually by 2020 but the pandemic ended any possibility of this as borders closed.

In 2021, international enrolment decreased by 23% when compared to pre-pandemic figures prior to 2018.

The pre-pandemic breakdown of sender countries to China constituted 60% of international enrolments from Asia, followed by Africa (16.6%) and Europe (15%).

In 2021, master’s programs accounted for 71% of English language programmes in China

South Korea (50,600 students), Thailand (28,608), Pakistan (28,032) and India (23,198) topped the source country list.

Asian-century signals renewed demand

Disruption to the big English speaking markets has allowed for an experimental phase where more students have chosen Asian study destinations as an alternative.

Tuition is considerably cheaper than the established major players in international education, and offers one explanation as to why China’s appeal as a study destination is growing. While international fees at a UK university can exceed £20,000 a year, an average Chinese programme varies between £1,300 and £2,400 annually.

Research from Trier University suggests that the BRI has significantly increased the number of scholarship recipients destined for study in China. The research suggests that over time scholarship provision could help turn China into a destination less driven by push factors (such as lack of work in home country) and more by pull factors (reputation of education and opportunities).

This plays to the ‘Asian Century’ narrative, which predicts Asia has begun to take centre-stage globally as Europe and the US declines. The Financial Times argued that in purchasing power terms, the Asian Century began in 2020.

Chinese HE provision is also rapidly on the rise. China has 7 global top 100 universities ranked in the most recent Times Higher Education world rankings.

Both Tsinghua University and Peking University made it to the top 20 (12th and 14th respectively), beating numerous Russell Group and Ivy League institutions. By the measurement of China’s homegrown Shanghai Ranking, 10 local universities make the top 100.

Also, in September last year, Xi’an Jiaotong University became the first top tier institution to waive English language requirements for graduation, signalling a renewed belief that English language was no longer a prerequisite to success.

Kevin Prest, senior analyst for the British Council’s Education Insights team, talks about how the policy focus in China has shifted from quantity to quality.

“Several policy documents were released in 2017 and 2018, with stricter regulations in recruitment and management of international students and scholarships” Prest tells The PIE.

“The key policy drivers are establishing a quality assurance system; streamlining recruitment and management systems; and improving management of the China Scholarship Scheme.”

The post How many international students study in China? appeared first on The PIE News.

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