Thai universities working to attract more Chinese students

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Domestic enrolment in Thai higher education has been slowly declining for several years
  • Thai universities are increasingly looking to China to help offset this shortfall, and the number of Chinese students in Thai higher education has doubled since 2012

Mark Thailand down as the latest Asian market to step up its efforts to attract greater numbers of Chinese students. And the underlying reason is a familiar one: total tertiary enrolment in Thailand has flattened and even begun to decline over the last several years. Since 2012, total higher education enrolment in the country has dropped from 2,430,000 students to just over 2,410,000 as of 2017.

Thai universities are increasingly looking to China to help offset those declining domestic numbers, and the number of Chinese students in Thai higher education is on the rise as a result.

Drawing on figures from the Asia Research Center for Migration at Chualongkorn University, Reuters reports that nearly 8,500 Chinese students were enrolled in Thai higher education as of 2017, roughly double the number from 2012.

Many of those students are drawn from China’s southern provinces, and for them Thailand represents a chance to pursue a relatively high-quality higher education along with new career opportunities in the bustling Thai economy.

The affordability of Thai universities is a key consideration for Chinese students as well. Average tuitions range around US$3,700 per academic year, but this compares to tuition rates of US$8,000 per year in a more established regional destination such as Singapore, or as much as US$60,000 in the United States.

“If I work here I will have more opportunities than where I came from,” Chinese student Cherry He Ting, who first arrived Thailand as an exchange student several years ago and is now wrapping up a master’s degree in history.

For their part, Thai universities are responding to Chinese demand by laying on additional programmes and services targeted to Chinese students. But some also see the influx of visiting students from China – which has been accompanied as well by growing numbers of Chinese academics taking up post in Thai higher education and even by Chinese investments in private universities in Thailand – as part of a broader effort to expand China’s influence in Southeast Asia.

China’s massive “One Belt One Road” foreign investment framework is squarely aimed at building trade, diplomatic, and academic links between China and Southeast Asia (along with many other markets along the traditional Silk Road trade routes). Among many other initiatives in the region, it has provided for additional scholarship support for Chinese students in Southeast Asia.

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