Foreign enrolment in China up by 10.5% in 2017

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The number of international students in China reached nearly 490,000 in 2017, within easy striking distance of the country’s long-term goal to host 500,000 students by 2020
  • Nearly half of all foreign students in China were enrolled in degree studies last year, a study category that is growing even more quickly than is overall foreign enrolment

The latest statistics from China’s Ministry of Education highlight another year of strong growth for China’s foreign enrolment. The Ministry reports a total of 489,200 international students enrolled in Chinese institutions and schools in 2017, an increase of 10.5% over 2016 and another important step toward the country’s long-term goal to host 500,000 students by 2020.

The official statistics also demonstrate a growing interest in academic studies in China. Nearly half of all foreign students in the country – about 241,500 in total – are enrolled in degree programmes. This represents a 15% increase over 2016’s academic enrolment. Looking just at graduate and doctoral students, China reports an increase of nearly 19% year-over-year to reach 75,800 students in 2017.

These numbers have had a boost from an expanding government scholarship scheme. Nearly 59,000 foreign student received a Chinese government scholarship in 2017. The vast majority of scholarship recipients (88%) were degree students, and roughly 70% were pursuing advanced graduate or doctoral degrees.

Those expanding academic enrolments are certainly influenced by the availability of government scholarships, but it appears as well that the growing profile of China’s leading institutions, the powerful Chinese economy, and the relative affordability of Chinese higher education have been important factors in driving the continued growth in foreign student numbers.

“As of the end of 2017, China was the most popular destination for international students in Asia,” notes a Ministry statement. Leading sending countries in 2017 included South Korea, Thailand, Pakistan, the United States, India, Russia, Japan, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, and Laos.

The Ministry points out as well that nearly two-thirds of all foreign students in the country (65%) come from markets targeted by China’s “Belt and Road Initiative“ (formerly known as the “One Belt, One Road Strategy”). Belt and Road is a massive trade and foreign investment programme linking markets along the traditional Silk Road trade routes throughout Asia and Europe. It is by some estimates the largest infrastructure and investment project in the history of the world.

That the government so explicitly links the growing population of foreign students in China to such important initiatives in trade and foreign policy speaks to the growing role of the education sector in China’s exercise of soft power. It reflects as well the general broadening of China’s profile and influence throughout Asia and beyond, which only further enhances its position as a leading international study destination and virtually guarantees that China will reach its 2020 enrolment target ahead of schedule.

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