Domestic Affairs

Students waves should flow East too

By Patrick Mattimore (
Updated: 2010-11-19 09:07
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During his trip to China last November, President Barack Obama pledged to send 100,000 students to China over the next four years. Last year, less than 14,000 American students studied in China, a slight decrease from the year before.

The 127,628 Chinese university students studying in United States colleges - not including Hong Kong - were more than from any other country, according to "Open Doors," an annual report from the Institute of International Education. Nearly one out of every five foreign students in the US came from mainland China.

While the percentage of international students enrolling for the first time at US institutions in the Fall of 2009 increased by only 1.3 percent over the previous year, Chinese student enrollments surged by 30 percent.

China sent several times more students to the US than Great Britain, France, Spain, and Italy combined, despite the fact that more American students attended colleges in each of those countries than in China.

American universities aggressively recruit Chinese students. For example, the News-Gazette, a small Illinois newspaper reported that the University of Illinois recently signed a deal with Zhejiang University to bring Chinese students to the United States for a combination of undergraduate and master's degrees. Most of the students' out-of-state tuitions will be covered by the Chinese government and Zhejiang University.

Chinese universities should recruit American students with the same fervor.

A US State Department spokesman speaking to a reporter from the Chronicle of Higher Education at the time of President Obama's visit explained that "China will have a much more important voice in world affairs in the coming years, and we need more Americans who can speak the language, who understand China, and who can do business more effectively with the Chinese."

Neither the spokesman nor President Obama had any information about how the US planned to send more students to China, what incentives, if any, the government might offer to students wishing to study in China, or any other details, saying that such details would be announced "at a later date."

One year later, the time to announce those details has arrived.

There are already in place several programs co-sponsored by American and Chinese universities to encourage American students to study in China. One such program is Ohio State University's Summer Quarter immersion programs for undergraduate and graduate students operated through the Flagship China Center, located in Qingdao, China. Generally, though, there needs to be a great deal more done by the government and American universities to encourage American students to come to China.

The Chinese government and Chinese universities need to work harder too, in order to recruit American students, taking a page from the marketing books of many American universities that already actively recruit Chinese students.

The mutual goal of China and the US should be to establish an open education door with a more nearly equal bidirectional flow of traffic from the respective countries.

The author is a fellow at the American-based Institute for Analytic Journalism and an adjunct instructor at Tsinghua/Temple Law School LLM Program in Beijing.