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Why International Students Study in China

September 20, 2018
 
 

A new study looks at the motivations of international students studying in China. According to the study, published in the Journal of Studies in International Education, the number of international students in China has grown more than tenfold since 1995, from 36,855 to 442,773. More than half (57.9 percent) of international students in China come from other countries in Asia.

The study by Wen Wen, an associate professor of higher education at China’s Tsinghua University, and Die Hu, a Ph.D. candidate in international education at the University of California, Los Angeles, is based on both survey results and interviews with 30 international students. The authors found that the reputation of the institution was the most important factor affecting international students’ decisions to study in China. They noted that China has a sizable number of top-ranked universities compared to countries in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America. Students from elsewhere in Asia -- with the exception of Japan -- were more concerned with university reputation compared to peers from other countries, while students from Europe, North America and sub-Saharan Africa were comparatively less concerned with quality and reputation indicators.

Economic factors drawing students to China included the low cost of living and the availability of scholarships. The authors noted that the Chinese government provides generous scholarships to students from developing nations, providing the equivalent of $300 million in scholarships to international students each year. Beyond direct economic incentives, the authors observed that students expressed optimism about economic cooperation between China and their home countries and thought that studying in China would give them an edge in their careers.

The authors found that the desire to better understand China and its culture was a relatively less important factor in drawing international students to China. Some students in the study cited political motivations, including -- for students from certain Southeast Asian countries -- anti-Chinese sentiment and limited educational opportunities for ethnic Chinese students back home.

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