According to the MOE, the momentum in the number of Chinese students studying abroad and returning from overseas studies continued last year. Returning students are increasingly equipped with the skills required to support industrial development and government strategies for growth. 608,400 Chinese students left the country to pursue advanced studies overseas in 2017, tipping the number over the 600,000 mark for the first time, in an 11.74% increase on 2016 and cementing China’s position as the world’s largest source country for international students. The number of learners returning to China after completing their course reached 480,900, up 11.19% on the previous year, of which 227,400 with a master’s degree or higher, up 14.90%.
Statistics show China has become the largest source of international students thanks to its growing pool of potential candidates. In total, 5,194,900 Chinese students have studied abroad over the last 40 years, and 1,454,100 students are currently enrolled in overseas higher education institutions. In 2017, while developed countries and regions, such as the US and Western Europe, remained the most popular destinations, Belt and Road (B&R) countries have begun to harvest the growing wave of Chinese students seeking to learn abroad. In total, 66,100 students, including 3,679 on government sponsorships, studied in 37 B&R countries, highlighting this above-average growth of 15.7% since 2016.
An overview of statistics on Chinese students studying abroad between 1978 and 2017 reveals that the number of students returning from overseas studies, especially high-caliber graduates, has been growing steadily. In total, 3,132,000 students or 83.73% of all students pursuing further studies abroad returned to China after graduation. Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in November 2012, in particular, 2,313,600 students have returned home, accounting for 78.73% of all returnees having studied outside the country.
In 2017, while the vast majority of students were self-funded (541,300 or 88.97% of all students studying outside China), state sponsorship continued to play a major role in helping a large number of students realize their overseas educational ambitions. In total, 31,200 people, including 12,800 visiting scholars (41.17%) and 13,200 graduate or doctoral students (42.29%), were able to study in 94 countries thanks to state funding. Exposure to an international educational environment equips these returning scholars with global insight and a competitive edge in strategically important fields. The number of people attending overseas programs with local government or employer sponsorship reached 35,900, up 119.71% on the previous year.