Brief report on Chinese overseas students and international students in China 2017


Part I  2017 sees increase in number of Chinese students studying abroad and returning after overseas studies

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 students 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.

Part II  Growing number of foreign students choosing to study in China for a degree across multiple disciplines

In 2017, 489,200 internationals students furthered their studies in China, marking an increase of over 10% for the second consecutive year. The number of degree students reached 241,500 (49.38% of the total), up 15.04% year on year. According to the MOE, a growing number of foreign students are choosing to study in China for a master’s or Ph.D. degree across a widening range of disciplines, and scholarships granted by the Chinese government are playing an increasingly important role in attracting international students.

Statistics show that students from 204 countries and territories studied in 935 Chinese higher education institutions located in 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities in 2017. They included 75,800 graduate and doctoral students, an increase of 18.62% compared to 2016. As of the end of 2017, China was the most popular destination for international students in Asia. The top 10 source countries were South Korea, Thailand, Pakistan, the United States, India, Russia, Japan, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, and Laos, respectively. The number of students from ‘Belt and Road’ countries, which accounted for 64.85% of all international students in China, was 317,200, an increase of 11.58%. 341,900 international students (69.88% of the total) studied in 11 eastern municipalities and provinces such as Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang.

Statistics also show that scholarships offered by the Chinese government have allowed an increasing number of international students to further their professional studies and pursue higher degrees in more specialized fields. In 2017, 58,600 foreign students from 180 countries were awarded Chinese government scholarships, accounting for 11.97% of the total. 88.02% of the recipients were degree students (51,600); 69.57% (40,800) were graduates or doctoral students, marking an increase of 20.06% compared to 2016. The number of self-funded students was 430,600, accounting for 88.03% of all overseas students.

48.45% of these foreign students were enrolled for liberal arts degrees, while the number of students majoring in engineering, management, science, art and agronomy increased by 20% year on year.