The New Silk Road and Future International Student Mobility
The original Silk Road, established during the Han dynasty, beginning around 130 B.C., created a string of markets and trading posts from Antioch, across the Syrian desert, through Iraq and Iran to the former capital of China, Xian.
In 2013, China’s President Xi Jinping announced the “One Belt, One Road,” initiative. The infrastructure project is estimated to cost more than a trillion dollars and involves 68 countries south and west of China, along the historic Silk Road. China’s overarching aim is to construct a network of ports, railways and pipelines that will plug China into economic hubs across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. When complete, the Belt and Road will connect approximately 65 percent of the world’s population. According to David Dollar, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, China loans about $40 million a year to developing countries.
This integration will inevitably strengthen Chinese economic, political and maritime power in the region, and by extension, educational collaborations with regional colleges and universities.
What does all this have to do with future international recruitment? China’s higher education initiatives include increasing the number of international students studying on Chinese campuses to 500,000 by 2020.
One example of Chinese higher education expansion was the founding of the Asian Universities Alliance in 2017 with an initial membership of 15 universities. In addition to promoting student and faculty mobility within Asia, the organization also aims to promote collaborative research among member institutions.
Another example of growing Chinese influence in higher education is providing scholarships to students from all over the world. This is most evident in Africa. In 2003, there were 2,000 African students studying in China. By 2015, the number had increased to 50,000.
China’s political, economic and strategic educational initiatives and its robust funding policies will pull future international students away from Western colleges and universities. Brand name schools, of course, will not be negatively impacted. But schools with low international profiles and endowments and dependent on international student revenue to meet enrollment and financial goals, will no longer be able to count on future Chinese enrollment This may not happen tomorrow. But, I predict, it will happen.