Grads lured back to China

February 18, 2005

China's continuing economic development is bringing its overseas students back home in greater numbers.

In a survey, the majority of Chinese studying abroad expressed a willingness to return to work in their home country.

The month-long online survey was conducted by Elite Reference, under the auspices of the All-China Youth Federation. More than 80 per cent of those surveyed said that they intended to return to China - 35 per cent of them immediately after graduation, while slightly more than half of the interviewees said they would like to stay abroad working for a few years before their return.

Historically, a large proportion of foreign students have not returned to China. The number returning is rising, yet remains low overall. Between 1978 and 2003, about 700,200 Chinese studied abroad. By March 2004, only 172,800 of these had returned.

But in 2003 the number of students returning rose to more than 20,000 - a 12.3 per cent increase on the the previous year.

Although a survey of this kind could be expected to produce largely China-friendly findings - Elite Reference is a subsidiary of the China Youth Daily newspaper group - a considerable number of students polled did express a reluctance to return.

About 70 per cent of these cited a "complicated relation network" as their chief reason for not wanting to go back to China.

This refers to the custom of guanxi - connections - that underpins business in China. For those with good connections, a return to a country where they can pull strings to secure a good job is attractive. Those without, though, may find the idea of competing abroad on a level playing field a much better alternative.

China's lower standard of living also encourages many to remain abroad. But for those who do return, employment prospects seem rosy.

The survey found that about 70 per cent of returned students find a job within six months of their return, with more than 30 per cent working for foreign companies.

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