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‘Sea turtles’ increasingly return to China

China is embracing a growing number of its brightest overseas-educated graduates, or ‘sea turtles’, returning home to seek employment opportunities, a new report has shown.

Photo: Unsplash

Western qualifications are still seen as competitive in China, despite the better domestic HE

The China Returnees Talent Report on “sea turtles” published by LinkedIn found that among students who studied abroad and moved back to China in 2017, there was a significant jump in the numbers returning after gaining senior work experience overseas.

“This trend will continue because of China’s strong job market”

In 2017 a record 480,900 overseas students returned to China, while the total number of Chinese studying abroad was around 5.2 million by the end of the year.

It is expected that around 3.1 million will choose to return to China after finishing their studies, accounting for 83.7% of those who successfully complete their studies.

Wang Huiyao, president of the Center for China and Globalisation said overseas students have played a pivotal role in China’s modernization

However, while the government has created sufficient policy conditions to encourage overseas students to return to China, Huiyao said, the level of government services need to be improved to better attract and retain talent in the future.

Jazreel Goh, director of education China at the British Council, told The PIE News the rise in returnees to China does not worry stakeholders in the UK, as the economic opportunities in China are obvious, and UK education can be seen as a part of wider success.

“China is still experiencing strong economic growth and Chinese students are highly aware of the many career opportunities available in China. We support UK education institutions in organising job fairs, career workshops and professional networking events for their Chinese students in order to support them in finding a suitable job opportunity in China. Indeed, according to our own latest survey, 94% of UK alumni find a job within six months of returning to China,” she said.

“The majority of Chinese nationals who choose to study in the UK are motivated by the quality of the UK’s education system and the professional opportunities a UK qualification unlocks at home, as opposed to immigration plans,” she added.

Earlier in 2018, the Chinese government announced plans to introduce additional incentives to encourage overseas Chinese students to return and start their own businesses.

“94% of UK alumni find a job within six months of returning to China”

Chief learning officer at WholeRen Education Andrew Chen told The PIE News that for Chinese students who have studied in the West, there are increasingly more employment opportunities for them in China compared to their country of foreign study. 

“For new graduates entering the Chinese employment market,  it is definitely more competitive for them to have Western education credentials,  especially if it is from a prestigious and world ranked academic program,” he said.

Chen added that cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Hangzhou offer world level employment for these students in their home country that they know well.

“However,” he added, “tier-2 and less developed cities still face challenges attracting foreign study alumnus because they lack incentives to draw such employees.” 

“But I believe this trend [of graduates returning] will continue because of China’s strong job market and its demand for highly educated graduates, which cannot be supplied by Tier 1 universities in China alone.”

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