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China focuses on regional students as inbound enrolments up

China will focus its student recruitment efforts on neighbouring growth markets, it has announced, as government statistics reveal increasing incoming student numbers in India and Pakistan are offsetting stagnation in other markets. Meanwhile, the number of outbound students is on the rise.

A poster at the entrance to a mall in Beijing, China offers English classes to students who might later study abroad.

"I believe that Western universities will have to contend with a potent new competitor in these markets soon"

The total number of foreign students in China reached 377,054 in 2014, up 5.77% on 2013, the Ministry of Education figures show.

However, numbers have stagnated in some traditionally strong markets including South Korea, China’s top source country, while the number coming from the Americas has fallen by 2.45%.

“We are considering providing more preferential policies to some border provinces and regions to help recruit more students from neighbouring countries”

India was the seventh largest source of students coming to China, sending 13,578 (↑15%) students, while Pakistan rose from tenth to eight, sending and 13,360 students.

“The number of students from some countries, such as South Korea, Japan and the US, remains stable or has started to drop,” Tian Lulu, an official at the Ministry of Education, said at a forum held by the China Education Association for International Exchanges in Beijing.

“But some neighbouring countries, including India and Pakistan, are becoming emerging sources for international students in China,” she continued.

“Against such a backdrop, we are considering providing more preferential policies to some border provinces and regions to help schools and other educational institutions recruit and accept more students from neighbouring countries.”

The Ministry this week announced a new scholarship for students from the countries that will be part of China’s Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road projects, which aim to increase investment and trade with ASEAN and central Asian nations.

However, further details of the ‘One Belt and One Road’ scholarship have yet to be announced.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Education said that state-backed scholarships have played a crucial role in attracting students to China and building educational ties with other countries, with around 10% of all inbound students supported by either full or partial Chinese Government Scholarships in 2014.

The number of government scholarships available is more than five times the number offered a decade ago, when 140,000 foreign students studied in China.

Xuewen E, vice chairman of the China Overseas Study Association, also attributed the rise in inbound student numbers to state support.

“Apart from this, there are more and more students coming to study medical programmes in China due to low tuition and more practice opportunities, especially those students from South Asian countries like India and Pakistan, etc.,” he added.

While almost 60% of inbound students came from within Asia, the biggest proportional increase in incoming students came from China’s smallest source region, Australasia.

Students from within the region were up nearly a third to 6,272 students, while inbound numbers from Africa were up by almost a quarter to 41,677.

Around 164,000 of inbound students were degree-seeking, and capacity building within Chinese education has also contributed to the increase, suggested Kim Morrison, CEO of market entry consultancy Grok Education Services.

“Several Chinese universities now have the capability to teach some programs in English (a key requirement to more broadly export their educational offerings), international student accommodations are improving, and many Chinese universities are investing in training international student advisors,” she told The PIE News.

“Study abroad is no longer the privilege of the rich and powerful few”

“Chinese universities will approach markets, such as ASEAN, with the value proposition that China (versus the west) is the land of opportunity and that experience living and studying in China is the most relevant and best investment for Asian students,” she added.

“I believe that Western universities will have to contend with a potent new competitor in these markets soon.”

Meanwhile, nearly 460,000 Chinese students studied abroad in 2014 – 11% more than the previous year, as growth returns to 2012 levels after a slowdown in 2013.

“Many Chinese parents feel unhappy about the type of education offered by Chinese local schools,” commented E. “With the economic development in the country over the past decades, study abroad is no longer the privilege of the rich and powerful few.”

And the statistics indicate that more parents are opting to send their children abroad at a younger age, with high school aged students making up 30% of outbound students.

“If the parents decide to eventually send their child to study abroad, the sooner the better,” E commented. “This will allow their child to get better prepared academically and socially for moving to higher level of education.”

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