Why more students are choosing to study in China

China is fast becoming an attractive destination for international students, and joint-venture universities are broadening students’ options

February 7 2018
Duke Kunshan University

China is rapidly becoming a major player in the higher education game if the 2018 Times Higher Education Asia University Rankings are anything to go by. A number of government initiatives and funding boosts have helped to secure China as an attractive destination for international students and this momentum doesn’t appear to be waning any time soon.

A key priority of the Chinese Ministry of Education is to attract more international students to the country and the fairly new development of Sino-foreign joint venture universities is helping fulfil this aim.

Duke Kunshan University is one such venture, set up by Duke University in the US and Wuhan University in China. Students who choose to attend the university have the opportunity to study in both Kunshan, China and Durham, in the US.

Denis Simon, the executive vice-chancellor of Duke Kunshan University, thinks that there are many reasons why students would choose to study in China. “Students who are now studying in the Asia-Pacific region have all sorts of career opportunities," he says. They can use their knowledge of the East and the West, and they can learn new languages and new cultures, he says. In fact, research predicts that China will be teaching at least 500,000 international students by 2020.

With about seven Sino-foreign joint-venture universities now established, including Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Wenzhou-Kean University and New York University Shanghai, international students have several options if they are considering heading to China for a university education.


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It’s worth knowing that the China Scholarship Council has made large pots of scholarship money available and the cost of tuition is “extremely attractive” to international students, Dr Simon says.

Additionally, Chinese universities and the joint venture projects are revamping their halls of residence and teaching facilities to make students coming from abroad feel more comfortable and to encourage them to spend longer periods of time in China.

Initially these halls of residence were built specifically for international students, especially those from Western countries, but the differences in living arrangements “created two worlds on the Chinese campus”, says Dr Simon. He added that “there have been serious efforts under way to improve the overall housing and study environment for all students – Chinese and international – and these gaps have started to melt away”.

Another way in which Chinese universities are catering to international students and aiming to better integrate local and foreign students is to provide more courses taught in English, “which opens up more opportunities for greater interactions inside and outside of the classrooms for all students”. Universities are also employing more faculty members from around the world who teach in English.

And these measures appear to be working. Duke Kunshan University’s first year recruitment effort drew applicants from more than 80 countries, and some of these students attended on-site recruitment sessions with senior and junior recruiters. However, the majority of international students were attracted to the university through digital channels.

The digital recruitment strategy utilised various platforms including Google, Naver and WeChat to raise the visibility of the university, and used multilingual and localised approaches with the aim of thinking like the 16-/17-/18-year-olds that they were targeting.

“I believe the key to our success was forging tight relationships with guidance counsellors from key schools in our target countries. Sometimes these were virtual relationships using internet, phone, messaging, etc. The overall strategy worked so well, we are investing in expanding the number of channels we use across the world of social media to ensure even greater visibility of the DKU value proposition,” says Dr Simon. 

For a student considering study abroad, it is beneficial to think about plans post-graduation, and the rapidly expanding Chinese economy could be an attractive workplace for a student looking to gain experience working overseas.

“Because of the training these students will receive in cross-cultural affairs and global studies, they will be ideally suited to take on positions in Chinese and foreign corporations with strong international connections. As foreign investment to and from China continues to grow, more and more well-informed international people will be needed to staff key positions in marketing, government relations, business strategy, etc,” he says.

“These [institutions] are true experiments at the cutting edge of higher education in China and the fact that the government has shown a willingness to accept them…shows the kind of openness to learning from abroad that now exists in Chinese higher education. This bodes well for the future of China’s higher education system,” concludes Dr Simon.


How to choose a university abroad

  1. Look at the size of the institution and decide whether you would feel more comfortable at a larger or smaller institution.
  2. Consider whether you would prefer a rural or an urban environment.
  3. Look at the rankings of individual programmes as some of institutions may not rank highly in the World University Rankings, but perform well in a particular academic discipline.
  4. Look at the percentage of international students and how committed the university is to internationalisation.
  5. Look at the number of courses being taught in English and the number of faculty that can teach them.

Read more: Best universities in Asia

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