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China is aiming to attract more foreign students as part of a push for soft power

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The push for foreign students is a deliberate strategy by the Chinese government — through investment in scholarships and facilities — to foster a greater understanding of their culture and language globally. Meanwhile, governments in the U.S., Asia and Europe also are investing in their own China study programs, often in conjunction with the Chinese government, breeding a new generation of Sino-savvy graduates.

China´s current five-year plan for the education sector aims for higher education institutes in the country to accommodate around 500,000 international students by 2020, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

China is rapidly expanding its Mandarin and English-language offerings — 34 Chinese universities now offer English-taught programs, according to the MOE — and the government said it plans to fund 50,000 scholarships for overseas students by 2015.

Governments in the U.S. and Europe are investing in their own programs to encourage more of their students to study in China.

In 2010, the U.S. launched the "100,000 Strong Initiative" that aims to increase the number of American students studying in China to 100,000 by 2014, according to the 100,000 Strong website. The EU-China High Level People-to-People Dialogue (HPPD), described by the EU as "the third pillar of EU-China relations," facilitated the first-ever higher education talks between Europe and China in April, where the Chinese government announced it would provide 30,000 scholarships for EU students over the next five years, according to Xinhua.

About 290,000 studied in China in 2011, compared to just over 60,000 in 2001, according to the MOE. South Koreans (62,442) were the largest group of foreign students studying in China in 2011, followed by Americans (23,292). The Japanese (17,961), Russians (13,340), Indonesians (10,957) and Indians (9,370) also have large student populations, while almost 50,000 Europeans undertook some form of tertiary study in China in 2011, led by France (7,592) and Germany (5,451).

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