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China set to be top intl education choice

By Matteo Giovannini | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2019-12-22 10:00

Students experience virtual reality products at the Global Education Summit in Beijing in November. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The history of the last centuries has been characterized by the Europeanization and Americanization of the world. The United Kingdom in the 19th century and the United States in the 20th century both represented the economic center of their times, while the dawn of the 21st century has seen the unstoppable growth of Asia as a continent and of China at the core of it. This is mainly due to a rebalancing of global economic and political power and it is now provoking collateral effects on a large scale and especially on the migration of talent.

China has for long been the world's leading supplier of international students with over 600,000 Chinese going abroad to study according to the most updated data. Despite this, the immediate consequence of the rising power of China has been an increase of young ambitious people coming to China – people who are motivated by study or work, and genuinely interested in being part of the economic resurgence of the Middle Kingdom.

The Chinese education market has benefited from this trend growing from a niche market to the third destination of choice for study after the US and UK and accounting for about 10 percent of globally mobile students. It is estimated that China will host half a million international students by 2020, becoming a serious competitor to the classic five English-speaking countries (the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand), which have for such a long time dominated the higher education market.

US top universities have also taken advantage of China's growth by starting to expand their international presence with campuses all over Asia and especially in China in order to get their foot into emerging markets and as a consequence of restriction of student visas after 9/11 terrorist attacks and the US-China trade war.

The emergence of top-tier Western centers of learning in China is having significant consequences for the number of Asian youth that now have the option of attending prestigious academic institutions in their own backyard. In this way, Asia’s best and brightest may well remain in Asia for their entire educational journey.

Moreover, prestigious postgraduate degrees such as the Yenching Academy of Peking University and the Schwarzman Scholars of Tsinghua University offer the chance to bright international students to come to China to study, reversing the historical flow of Chinese students going abroad.

China’s government strategically launched Project 985 during the 100th anniversary of Peking University on May 4, 1998, investing over the last two decades more than $2 billion to promote the development and reputation of the Chinese higher education system by founding world-class universities in the 21st century. Nowadays, Tsinghua University and Peking University hold spots in the top 20 and their academic quality is improving every year.

More recently the introduction of favorable policies for the attraction and retention of foreign students after graduation has boosted the incoming trend. Generous scholarships, investments on facilities and programs, unrestricted access to student visas and introduction of long-term residency permits for talent in specific fields of knowledge all have contributed to make China a friendly environment for talented foreigners.

Certainly, the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative and the rise as a global powerhouse have helped China to become a pole of attraction for the best minds. As an example, the number of African students coming to China has increased from 3,000 to 50,000 in a decade, making China the second destination of choice for African students after France and providing a visible sign of the economic ties between China and Africa.

I myself came to China thanks to a Confucius Institute Scholarship to study language and culture, continued with an MBA program and eventually landed a job that allowed me to put into practice what I learned in the classrooms.

I strongly believe that an experience of study and work in China is necessary for the generation of future leaders, because they will be rewarded not only with a world-class education, as they could get anywhere else, but also with linguistic and cultural skills that are necessary for being global citizens in the 21st century.

Matteo Giovannini is a finance professional at ICBC in Beijing and a member of the China Task Force at the Italian Ministry of Economic Development. The article represents the author's views, and does not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 

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