China's Role in International Education by the Numbers

It's no secret that demand is high for American higher education among Chinese students and their parents. It's evident in the numbers; Chinese students account for a third - the largest proportion - of the more than one million international students on American campuses across the country. There are over 34,000 Chinese students in American high schools, and many others coming for summer camps and in “bridge” programs, as more Chinese parents send their children to the U.S. as a pathway to American colleges and universities. And admissions preparation and recruitment for high-performing Chinese students continues to be big business.

Consider this number, however: The China Service Center for Scholarly Exchange in Beijing receives as many as 3,000 returning Chinese students per day, assisting them with registering the study credentials and diplomas they earned abroad in order to apply for government positions and job openings in China's burgeoning private sector. Here was the scene at the main reception desk when I visited in September.

In China and many other countries in Asia, we are witnessing what education experts call "brain circulation" -- I saw it first-hand in September in Beijing, where I attended the inaugural Opening Convocation for the first class of Schwarzman Scholars, a new Master's program designed to foster understanding of and international ties with China by giving the world’s best and brightest students the opportunity to develop their leadership skills and professional networks through a one-year Master’s Degree at Tsinghua University in Beijing. This program is just a recent manifestation of the trend.

I’m also humbled to serve on the judging committee of the world’s largest prize in education, the new Yidan Prize launched this year by Chinese businessman Charles Chen Yidan to fund innovative education ideas with annual awards of about $7.6 million. Many more foreign-educated Chinese scholars and skilled workers are returning home to strengthen and expand higher education institutions, ultimately offering more educational and economic opportunities for more people around the world. With close to 400,000 international students enrolled in its higher education institutions, China is now the third most popular destination among globally-mobile students worldwide, and the country aims to welcome half a million by 2020.

The global circulation of talent and knowledge is a win-win for countries around the world. They expand businesses’ and individuals’ professional networks, and, more importantly, they sow the seeds of mutual understanding and cooperation in our globalized society.

Chinese students gain a lot by studying in the United States, and American students learn perspectives different from their own when they exchange ideas with their peers from around the world. And while the capacities of Chinese higher education institutions continue to grow and rise in prestige, it’s likely that Chinese students will also continue to come to the United States for academic degrees and advanced training. That’s why IIE has now translated into Chinese language the book that international careers expert Stacie Berdan and I wrote on Preparing to Study in the USA: 15 Things Every International Student Should Know, available for download next month. Here’s to more talented students from around the world crossing borders for an education, building lasting ties with international classmates, and serving wherever their careers may lead.

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