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Europe vs US: battling for hearts of Chinese students

The old world and the new vie for the Middle Kingdom's students


Europe vs US: battling for hearts of Chinese students

The old world and the new vie for the Middle Kingdom's students


China’s booming economy and a tendency for broadening  cultural exchange has changed lives dramatically; now more and more new graduates from middle schools  are willing to continue their higher education abroad. The students, fostered and sponsored  by their parents, go to America or Europe in flocks in the hope of getting a desired, highly-valued bachelor’s or master’s degree. Until recently, preference was directed toward American and Canadian universities, but the 19th China International Education Exhibition Tour which was held last weekend in Beijing with more than 400 universities from 20 countries and regions taking part, showed a different picture.

66cb352cjw1edddj9vbobj20xc18gduaSome French colleges and universities, China Daily reports, even arrange face-to-face interviews with Chinese applicants.

China Daily explains what urges Chinese students to seek education in European universities:

“The major reason for students becoming interested in studying in European countries is that many schools do not charge tuition to international students, and it is a good opportunity for getting a good grasp of a foreign language other than English.”

One of the students at the exhibition, who studies material science of clothing as her major and minors in international business and trade, commented on her reasons for studying in France:

“I want a combination of knowledge in both fashion materials and international trade, and that’s why colleges in France are my best and only choice,” she said. “It’s great because most schools waive your tuition so that you don’t have to spend that much. Most important, you can learn a foreign language while studying there. Speaking fluent English is so common in China.”

In order to attract more Chinese students to their universities, some European countries have introduced a simplified application for student visas. The number of Chinese university applicants going to Europe for university education is increasing yearly. For instance, the number of Chinese students in the EU in 2010 was around 120,000 – about six times more than in 2000.

The urge to study abroad is also fueled by the students’ desire to skip the gaokao (高考), an exam both feared by students and parents. Most Chinese people don’t consider the exam to be fair because it’s one-sided and not reflective of actual knowledge. Understanding that, many schools have introduced a system of two departments: Gaokao departments and International departments. According to a  Haidian Foreign Languages School (海淀外国语学校) student Selena, studying at the international department is more interesting and less difficult than the Gaokao path. This also saves on the overall stress of the exam itself.

The US universities are still popular among Chinese applicants. Statistics say that, in 2007, 140,000 students from China went abroad for higher education. In 2012, about 400,000 students studied abroad. China sent 60,000 students to the US in 2000, more than tripling in 2012 with 194,000.

The reasons why Chinese students choose the US were stated cogently in Yale Global Online:

“The main reason the US is more popular is simply because there is a greater choice of recognised brands … and many more universities in total,” says William Vanbergen, who runs a chain of admissions consulting offices and international schools in China. “Australia is only considered by people with less disposable income or those aiming for immigration,” he adds, alluding to Australia’s open immigration policies.

Chinese students also prefer the US because the universities offer more academic choices. In the UK, students are generally expected to choose a major at enrolment and stay focused on it during the course of the programme. In the US, on the other hand, most allow students to pick a major at the end of the first or second year.”

Both parties benefit from the situation. The increasingly wealthy Chinese parents want a better life for their children in Western countries; these students are largely self-funded:

“Foreign students contribute about US$24 billion annually to the US economy, and about two-thirds of them primarily pay their own way or their families do, according to the Institute of International Education and the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

About 235,000 of the international students were from China, a 21 percent increase year on year. A burgeoning middle class in China was cited as a factor. About one-third studied business and management once they arrived, the report said.”


More than that, American universities are intending to set up campuses on the mainland, according to reports from the South China Morning Post.

“So far, 26 non-Chinese institutions have set up branch campuses in on the mainland, according to data gathered by the Cross-Border Education Research Team (C-Bert) at the State University of New York at Albany. US institutions have the highest number of campuses, at 11, followed by Britain with four and Germany with three. “

The project has already seen the results. The Duke Kunshan University is a joint venture with Wuhan University, but it does not provide a degree from Duke at an undergraduate level. However, master’s programs at Kunshan are equivalent to a Duke degree from the US.

While the US and European universities are garnering the hearts (and wallets) of  the Chinese citizens, China is still lacking qualified bilingual employees in many spheres. That’s why the majority of those who go abroad for an education tend to come back cherishing the dream of becoming the change China needs.

Images courtesy of Weibo