China will be teaching at least 500,000 international students by 2020, a new study suggests.
Last year, the number of international students in China is likely to have passed 400,000 for the first time thanks to a steady rise in foreign enrolments since 2011, says a report by the Institute of International Education, a US education thinktank, published to coincide with the inaugural award of the Yidan Prize, an education award founded by Chinese technology billionaire Charles Chen Yidan.
The award, worth $7.7 million (£5.8 million) in total each year, was presented to Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychology professor, and Colombian schools pioneer Vicky Colbert at a ceremony in Hong Kong on 11 December.
According to the study, Academic Mobility: the 21st Century Silk Road, China taught 397,635 international students in autumn 2015 – 100,000 more than in 2011.
If that progress continues, China looks set to hit its ambitious goal of having 500,000 international students by 2020 – roughly half the 1.08 million international students now in the US, which is the world’s most popular higher education destination for mobile students, indicated the report, which used data provided by the Chinese Scholarship Council.
However, China’s international student numbers might grow even more rapidly thanks to an aggressive new push to establish itself as the world’s most dominant power in higher education – the so-called “One Belt, One Road” education initiative, which was officially launched in June 2017.
The programme, which is formally titled the Belt and Road Alliance for Industry and Education Collaboration, is described by the IIE’s report as a series of “cultural and technical partnerships among higher education institutions along the 21st-century maritime Silk Road”, which will deepen connections mainly with universities in Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam and other Pacific neighbours, but also in Russia, Turkey and Eastern European countries. The initiative will see the number of Sino-foreign education projects expand rapidly in coming years, with some 2,539 in existence in 2017, the study says.
While some commentators have seen the One Belt, One Road project as an attempt to usurp the US as the world’s top destination for international students, the report says that China’s ambitions should not be seen in terms of “a race” to be number one.
“There is no single superpower when it comes to education,” comment IIE researcher Rajika Bhandari and Columbia University educationalist Alessia Lefebure, authors of the 2015 book Asia: The Next Higher Education Superpower?, quoted in the report.
“What we see is greater mobility, growing interconnectedness, increased dialogue and many more bridges rather than barriers,” they state.