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How is China internationalising its education landscape?

In 1995, the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) in Beijing had 41 international students. In 2004, UIBE had around 1,000 international students and in one year this rose to 1,500 in 2005. The university now has 2,900 international students and rising.

Writing- China

One of the real stories of the last decade has been the rise of collaborative programmes and campuses launched in China

China is booming as an international education destination, and UIBE’s director of international student accommodation, Zheng Shu Qi, is a well placed observer. His employer is now ranked 3rd for international students throughout China. He attributes China’s rise in appeal to a mature education system, very few entry requirements in Mandarin and teachers fluent in English. Of course, China’s role as a global superpower is another incentive to students.

And China also has a great scholarship policy for foreign students. In 2009, China’s Ministry of Education offered Chinese Government Scholarships to 174 countries: 18,245 foreign students were admitted, making up 8% of the total number of international students, which numbered 238,184 (source: Ministry of Education).

And Zheng interestingly lists other methods of attracting students that are employed such as free taster sessions and short term summer camps for foreigners currently in China as also helping to boost uptake.

I spoke with various international students over here to find out what prompted them to consider studying in China. Tonje Kjellevold, 22, is from Norway and studies at Oslo University, but she is studying Chinese which entails a mandatory six months stay at Peking University.

There are of course more unique ways to choose a university. Luuk Hoefsloot, a 21 year old Dutchman who originally came to China as a teacher, now finds himself a student of Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU). “In a bar in Ho Chi Minh city, I ended up talking to a bunch of people who just finished studying in Beijing for a year, at different universities. They all recommended BLCU as offering the best price to quality ratio. Another plus was that it was still possible to apply, while a few other universities had already closed their application process,” he explains.

“I chose China because I want to learn the language, and I believe it’s so much easier to learn a language when you’re surrounded by it”

Gitte Hovgaard is a Danish girl motivated by a desire to learn Mandarin and discover an unknown part of the world for her. She intends to study Mandarin at Yunnan University in Kunming. “I chose China because I want to learn the language, and I believe it’s so much easier to learn a language when you’re surrounded by it,” she says. “But I chose Yunnan because I’ve heard it’s very beautiful, and because of the many ethnic groups, it just sounds interesting and different from where I am now or how I could study in Denmark.”

For Kjellevold, a point of difference about studying in China is the set-up of its educational system so that all study – and even attendance – can count towards a final grade. She explains, ‘In Norway, our exams are 100% of our grade. In China, the grade is not only the exams, but also how you perform in class, how often you come to class and how well you do in the weekly tests, so you need to be on top of your work all the time.”

Cities outside of Beijing may benefit from seeming “undiscovered”, but this also means less of an infrastructure for international students. It took Beijing’s UIBE 16 years to go from 41 international students to 2,900; compare this with Yunnan University which currently has 800 international students on its campus. And in Beijing’s 70 universities and institutions, there are 25 universities offering courses for international students, compared with just 4 of 17 in Kunming, China’s 16th biggest city. Similarly, China’s fifth biggest city, Shenzhen has seven major universities, only one of which offers courses for international students.

This of course means significant room for growth, which China is reported to be keen on. Some institutions are noticeably stepping up their efforts: Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) – which is the only university in this vast country which has as its main aim the teaching of Chinese to foreigners – has set up branch schools in Korea, Singapore and Thailand, and launched joint undergraduate and postgraduate programs with universities in Japan, Korea, Thailand, the UK and the USA in recent years.

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