China has designated 53 of its universities and colleges to receive overseas students sponsored by foreign governments as it continues to work its balancing act with the education budget.
The China Scholarship Council (CSC) signed a contract with the universities and colleges, in a move aimed at encouraging overseas students, who pay more than double the fees of domestic students, to study in China.
This year, China will increase the number of sponsored overseas students from 6,700 to 10,000. There are currently more than 110,000 overseas students in China, though fewer than 30 per cent of these are studying for degrees. China also made a commitment to increase the amount available in scholarships for foreign students.
Zhou Ji, the Chinese Education Minister, said the aim was to improve the image of China as a place to study. This would then attract more full fee-paying foreigners to the country.
Countries involved in the programme include Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam, Tanzania and Rwanda, while participating universities include colleges such as Tsinghua and Shanghai Jiaotong.
Pakistan also agreed to fund 1,000 teachers and researchers over the next five years to undertake doctoral study in Chinese institutions.
The Chinese Government promised to increase the proportion of the budget spent on rural development in 2006, with a particular emphasis on elementary schooling. The decision means that higher education institutions on the country's richer east coast will have to tighten their belts.
China is also aware of the growing demand for higher education and is taking steps to obtain outside help. Last year, restrictions on private funding of higher education were relaxed and there were moves to increase the number of corporate-backed grants for research projects.
But while they try to get more students in from overseas, Chinese universities are acutely aware that their capacity to accommodate homegrown students is not increasing fast enough.
Authorities are keen to farm out as many students as possible to universities in other countries, pledging financial support to several thousand masters students. The CSC will fund at least 7,000 applicants to study overseas in 2006, with a higher proportion of these being graduate students than in previous years.
The overseas studies grants will be mainly for programmes in France and the UK.
The CSC will sponsor the Sino-British Friendship Scholarship, aimed at postgraduate study for either PhD awards or research attachments in science, technology, medicine, humanities and social studies. It will also help fund the Sino-French doctorate programme, which aims to increase the number of Chinese students studying abroad and make graduates and doctors a larger proportion of the population, sources at the CSC said.