Central to the 34 points is the aim to “accelerate and expand the opening up of education”, the document explained. This includes education in China and the continued flow of outbound students.
“This is a nod to China’s effort to encourage more inbound study”
While the document didn’t specifically create a policy for an increasing foreign student numbers at Chinese HEIs, the ‘Belt and Road’ and ‘Silk Road’ initiatives do denote a focus on the promotion of “student mobility and mutual recognition of academic degrees,” along with teacher training and ‘study abroad’ programs.
The significance of this may not be fully understood by stakeholders in Europe and the Americas, warned Edward Holroyd Pierce, co-founder of internship provider CRCC Asia.
“One Belt One Road is huge indeed and people who started thinking of it only as infrastructure, and only involving Central Asian countries, will probably be quite surprised by how much can be covered by the One Belt One Road concept. Including internationalisation [in education], and by no means limited to the specific belt or road on the map,” he told The PIE News.
However, as David Weeks, co-founder and COO of Sunrise Education highlighted, a following policy point, to “promote the granting of foreign affairs approval authority for “double-class” universities,” could be a further indication of Beijing’s desire to attract students from further afield.
“I think this is a nod to China’s effort to encourage more inbound study by allowing their international cooperation departments to arrange more inbound [partnerships] with universities in countries with a strong appetite to send students to China – places in Central/South Asia and Africa,” he indicated.
“Revise and improve the Confucius Institute Charter”
“A prominent university in Beijing used Double First Class funding to organise international faculty visits to the US and Austria and to fund unique joint research projects on international trade and entrepreneurship studies. But many of those projects halted last year due to anxieties about the trade war.”
Weeks added the government worries of a “trade war” with the US has led to more attention being paid to the BRI by the education ministry.
“The rhetoric has pivoted for the time being towards the Belt and Road Initiative and engagement with universities in African and South and Central Asian countries, as well as building Confucius Institutes abroad,” he told The PIE.
Elsewhere, the ministry note highlighted changes to foreign cooperation rules which have made it easier for foreign investment in Chinese schools, and foreign companies running schools in China.
“[The government will] promote the revision of the Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on Sino-Foreign Cooperation in Running Schools and its implementation measures, and standardise the management of overseas courses in ordinary high schools,” the document states.
In what could be a nod to recent controversy on Confucius Institutes, the ministry said it would “optimise” its cultural organisation, but did not say it aimed to grow the number of institutions.
“Optimise the global layout of Confucius Institutes, revise and improve the Confucius Institute Charter,” the document set out, towards the bottom of the list of policies.
Lin Tian, CGHE research associate, told The PIE it was likely the country’s aim was to promote higher education through more partnerships, rather than third party institutes.
“My view is that China will promote the construction of international branch campuses and joint institutes in the future in order for the improvement of educational influence and international exchanges [to take place]”.