Ever since Deng Xiaoping opened up the economic levers in China in the 1980s, Chinese society has fundamentally changed. Unquestionably, one of the most significant worldwide developments of the past 30 years has been the economic growth in China. Millions of Chinese have been lifted out of poverty. For the first time in its history, China has a huge middle class. The average per capita income for many people in China’s largest cities is roughly equivalent to the average income in Taiwan and South Korea.
By some estimates, by 2020, the Chinese middle class will outnumber the middle class in Europe. Nobel laureate economist, Robert Fogel, predicts that China’s economy will be 40 percent of global GDP by 2040.
Construction projects, high rise apartment buildings, gleaming airports and high speed rail trains are all part of China’s new landscape. But many of these changes have come at a price: pollution, inflation over six percent, food contamination and shoddy construction projects.
The family, once the cornerstone of Confusion teachings, appears to be changing. A generation of university-trained Chinese are no longer willing to take care of their aging parents and grandparents. Chinese “old age” or “old people” homes are crowded and new facilities continue to be built to meet demand.
Chinese university students are not immune to the economic and societal disruptions taking place in China today.
A university degree from a foreign institution, once considered a ticket to a comfortable middle class life in China, is no longer the case. According to Amanda Barry, the Chinese liaison director for the Australian National University, “The foreign degree isn’t the edge it used to be. Big employers in China go to job fairs of the top Chinese universities and can fill their graduate intake. They don’t need foreign graduates.”
Nor is a university degree a guarantee of a good paying job after graduation. According to an editorial in China Report, the average monthly salary of the 2017 Chinese college graduate decreased by 16 percent from 2016, to 4,014 yuan, or $590. And the number of university graduates when surveyed who indicated they would pursue advanced degrees decreased from 21.3 percent in 2016 to 9.7 percent in 2017.
As Chinese society changes so will the realities and expectations of Chinese university students. As Chinese universities improve teaching and research and continue to climb in world rankings, more Chinese students will opt to stay and study in China where they can establish valuable contacts for future employment.
The implications for future Chinese international recruitment is obvious.
Chinese academic freedom and Communist Party control
No one reading this blog will contest that for the past three decades international higher education recruitment and enrollment has been dominated by the increasing numbers of Chinese students enrolling in international colleges and universities worldwide. There also is little dispute that institutions of higher education have financially benefited from Chinese enrollment.
But there is another side to this story. Some of you reading this blog may regard my musings as China bashing. Actually, the opposite is true. Like many of you I read with a sense of awe about China’s geopolitical, economic and higher education accomplishments. But I also read with concern about the long-term implications of China’s strategies and about the bill that will soon become due.
According to a December 2, 2017 article in “The Economist, Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” strategy, modeled on Germany’s “Industry 4.0” policy, aims to transform the country into a high-tech manufacturing powerhouse in industries like artificial intelligence, aviation and robotics. The key to achieving these objectives rests with the success of China’s educated workforce.
During this month of July, I will report on why I am concerned about several recent Chinese education initiatives. This month’s blogs will focus on the issues of academic freedom, the economic and societal changes taking place on China today and the impact of Confucius Institutes on colleges and universities.
Let’s begin with the issue of academic freedom.
According to an article printed last year in The South China Morning Post, a group of China’s top universities have set up Communist Party Departments to oversee the political thinking of their teaching staff. Universities will be closely scrutinized and professors will be evaluated for ideological purity to Communist party ideals. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party’s powerful watchdog, recently published rectification reports on eight of China’s most prestigious universities.
Self-censorship is encouraged. Exile abroad is a very real threat.
In 2015 China’s Minister of Education urged Chinese universities to ban the use of textbooks promoting Western ideals. Last year the Chinese government prohibited foreign student participation in political activities and created new controls for international student support services.
Efforts to control universities are not restricted to Chinese schools. On October 19, 2017, Reuters and The Guardian reported on an attempt by Chinese officialsto partially restrict access to the American Political Science Review, a journal published by Cambridge University Press.
This was not the first time that China imposed restrictions on Cambridge University Press.
In August 2017 Beijing demanded that Cambridge University Press withdrew 315 articles and book reviews from China Quarterly, produced by the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. The articles covered topics considered too sensitive by the Chinese government, including Tiananmen Square protests and Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.
Initially, Cambridge University Press authorities complied with China’s request and withdrew the articles. But three days after this decision was made, the editors reversed their earlier decision and the 315 articles were once again made available.
New York University’s campus in Shanghai and Duke University’s campus in Kunshan will now be required to give vice chancellor status or seats on boards of trustees to party secretaries.
Chinese students who studied abroad, upon returning to China are required to meet with education officials and report on any anti-party activities they experienced while abroad. Chinese students at the University of Science and Technology in Dalian have set up discussion groups to combat any negative influences on their thinking while overseas. Chinese students studying in colleges and universities in Connecticut, North Dakota and West Virginia also have similar discussion groups.
Xi Jinping’s control over the Communist Party of China and all aspects of Chinese life is indisputable. His famous Document # 9, a handbook of subversive ideas, bans topics from public discussion including the nature of human rights and the empowerment of civil society. College and university activities are not immune from Document #9.
In my last blog I quoted statistics from the QS Applicant Survey 2018 revealing the shifts in international students’ preferences and mobility patterns. More than 16,000 prospective international students participated in the survey.
This blog will examine one country who appears to be gaining both in reputation, application and enrollment: Canada.
The Canadian government and higher education authority has set a goal of enrolling 450,000 students by 2022. In 2017 495,000 international students enrolled in Canadian colleges and universities, five years ahead of schedule. The numbers reflect a 20 percent increase over the previous year.
Canada ranks number three as a top study destination for international students, after the United States and the United Kingdom.
Higher education is the fourth largest export in the Canadian economy and supports 170,000 jobs throughout the country.
Enrollments from China increased 28 percent and Indian enrollments increased by 25 percent. Enrollments from Vietnam and Iran also increased. Applications from Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe to date this year should reflect strong enrollments from these regions in the fall term.
President of the Canadian Bureau for International Education, President Karen McBride: “Our research shows that international students choose Canada because of the quality of the Canadian education system and our reputation as a safe and tolerant country.”
I would also add that the Canadian government, in concert with Canadian colleges and universities, created a strategic international marketing plan. When you request information on studying in particular school in Canada, you first get the reasons why you should study in Canada. And last year the Canadian government opened seven new visa centers in China to meet the growing demand from Chinese students to study in Canada. Finally, the Canadian government has implemented generous employment opportunities for international students after graduation.
QS Market Insights manager Dasha Karzunina put it best: Student mobility patterns are “on the precipice of transformation.” International student enrollment in Canadian schools is one indication of this transformation.
In March 2018 the 2018 QS Applicant Survey Report published the results of a global survey of study abroad students and the preferred countries of internationally mobile students.
The survey revealed the following:
While the United States and the United Kingdom remain the preferred study destinations, the survey results also revealed that both countries are losing market share to other destinations, especially Canada, Germany and Australia.
The “Trump Effect” and Brexit appear to be key (negative) factors in student preferences.
Countries offering classes in English and with low tuition or scholarship programs (like Germany) have experienced increased applications from international students.
The United States has received fewer applicants from students in several countries in the Middle East. The reasons are well known to anyone reading this article or newspapers.
For the first time, China emerged at the eighth most popular international student destination. This is a reflection, among other reasons, of the significant scholarships awarded to students in countries in China’s Belt and Road initiative.
There are other trends affecting international student mobility worth noting:
Southeast and East Asia are increasingly popular among international students.
Key factors include:
Low tuition and living costs
Proximity to home
English language courses and
Improvement in rankings
While these surveys reflect a point in time, March 2018, I think it safe to predict that when international student enrollments are reported in the fall, these statistics will hold and reflect the changes in international student preferences and mobility patterns. I don’t think this is a one-year phenomena. There is ample data to suggest that these changes have been occurring “sub rosa” for quite some time.