A study from the Beijing Institute of Technology said international tuition fees could be increased by up to five times the existing price to help universities compete with other institutions around the world and increase the quality of Chinese higher education.
In 2010, China set out a plan to attract 500,000 foreign students, a figure the country almost reached in 2018 when it hit 492,185 international students.
The bulk of students in China come from other Asian countries including South Korea, Thailand, Pakistan and India, as well as a significant proportion from the US.
Students are in part attracted by the country’s relatively low tuition fees. Currently non-domestic students pay around 20,000 yuan per year (USD $2,807) in tuition fees at Chinese universities, but researchers suggested this could be increased to 100,000 yuan ($14,000).
The Chinese government is giving the study “serious consideration”, reported the South China Morning Post.
Grace Zhu, China branch director at BONARD, said the move could “potentially bring in more revenue for Chinese universities, which could be used to reinvest in infrastructure, research, and other aspects of the educational system”.
“This could help attract more students in the long term by improving the quality of education and facilities,” Zhu added.
“Many students choose to study in China is because of the relatively low cost of education”
However she also warned it may cause China to lose students in the short term.
“One of the reasons why many students from countries like Pakistan and Thailand choose to study in China is because of the relatively low cost of education compared to other destinations,” she said. “If fees are raised too high, it could make it difficult for some students to afford studying here.”
China’s drive to attract overseas students has been ongoing as part of the country’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has seen China invest in global infrastructure and engagement, as well as offering scholarships to students from target countries.
Zhu suggested a gradual increase in fees, which would help students adjust to the changes while allowing Chinese institutions to compete with top-ranked universities in other countries.
“Ultimately, we would need to attract and recruit more international students with certain diversity to enhance China’s position and importance as [a] studying abroad destination,” Zhu said.
Some Chinese universities have raised domestic tuition fees by up to 54% this year as a response to a fall in government spending on tertiary education, Reuters reported.
It comes as Xi spoke in May about the need to improve the attractiveness of China’s education system to recruit more international students and counteract the number of Chinese young people leaving the country to study abroad.
He reportedly said the development of world-class universities should be prioritised. He added that the study in China brand should be “vigorously” promoted “to enhance the international influence and discourse power of our country’s education”.
Xi also stressed the importance of universities developing courses that meet the country’s strategic needs as the country’s youth unemployment rate hit a new high of over 20% in April.
According to analysis by Goldman Sachs, one of the reasons behind this is “mismatches between skillset graduates acquired from their higher education and skillset required by employers in industry”.
Analysts said this “might have caused frictions in the labour market and therefore contributed to high youth unemployment rate”.