Universities seek greater enrollment from abroad


BEIJING, Aug. 26 — Language barriers, career prospects and teaching facilities dent enthusiasm of international students considering studying in China, Yang Yang reports
Samuel Goldstein is spending his gap year in China. While the Washington University political science student still has a year to go before graduation, he has decided to apply for a master’s degree course in Chinese.
But there is a twist in his plan. Instead of applying to a Chinese university, the 20-year-old wants to attend a satellite school of a US university in China, which he believes will guarantee the quality of education.
“Chinese education is not comparable with Western education. I am half-Swiss, so it’s easy for me to go to Switzerland or any other European country to study, but economic growth is lower there and so there aren’t as many opportunities in Europe as in China,” he said.
“I am fascinated by Chinese culture and language and the economy offers a lot of opportunities.”
China’s culture and economy may attract overseas students, but the education system does not. And that’s a big problem, because the government is trying to attract more foreign students as part of an internationalization strategy in an attempt to grab a slice of the international education market.
In 2011, there were approximately 4.3 million internationally mobile students in tertiary education worldwide, with 77,400 studying at colleges in China, according to statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The Chinese Ministry of Education reported a higher number, saying that the country played host to 119,000 overseas students in 2011, including 88,500 college and undergraduate students, 23,600 graduate students, and 6,900 postgraduates.
According to the ministry’s action plan, China will host 500,000 international students at all levels by 2020, becoming the top Asian destination for overseas students. The number of overseas college and university students is expected to reach 150,000.
However, Darryl S.L. Jarvis, associate dean of research and postgraduate studies, and professor of global studies at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, doubts that China can be truly competitive in the international education market, even though the country, “is trying to achieve the goal via the development of English language programs and increasing the number of scholarships for overseas students to 50,000 by 2015”.
Language barrier
The biggest barrier is linguistic, according to Jarvis. “While Mandarin will, of course, be an important language going forward, the main language for international commerce as well as the adopted language for scholarly engagement in the hard sciences and social sciences will remain English,” he said.
Sang Peng, president of the Beijing Overseas-Study Service Association, said, “To my knowledge, about 60 percent of the foreign students come to China to study the language, which is not a common phenomenon compared with other countries, especially the top destinations like the US and the UK.”
Jarvis cited other factors influencing student numbers, including academic reputation, university facilities and career opportunities. Moreover, overseas graduates of Chinese universities can expect a lower starting salary than their counterparts with a degree from a US institute, for example.
The holder of an MBA from Harvard can expect to find a job quickly. The annual starting salary is around $120,000 and the promotion prospects are good. They can also expect to work for a major multinational business and experience lots of international travel.
“By contrast, students with a business degree from a well-regarded Chinese university can expect a starting salary of only about one-third to a half of that figure. They will be employed by a Chinese enterprise and will not necessarily be internationally mobile.
Similar differentials can be identified for petroleum engineering graduates. Petroleum engineers graduating from a Chinese university can expect only one-third of the $90,000 annual starting salary expected by engineers from a quality school in the US.
“Graduates from Chinese universities currently do not enjoy these sorts of career options or command the types of salaries that graduates from Western universities enjoy,” said Jarvis.
Quality of tuition
Goldstein decided not to apply to a Chinese university because of concerns about the quality of education.
“I know people who got their master’s degree in Chinese like any other Chinese student. They take the master’s degree courses, but they don’t learn anything. Everything they learn comes from their own research and reading,” he said.
“Maybe you can just buy a degree, one of those diplomas from famous Chinese universities with your name printed on them. If you take the degree to someone, they might think it is a fake, even if you indeed graduated for real. I know a student who can’t speak Chinese, but got an A for Chinese class.
Apart from the academic environment, many foreign students are uncomfortable with the culture at Chinese universities.
One female student, who asked not to be named, arrived in China in 2010 after graduating from Cambridge University in the UK, where she spent four years studying Chinese. In July, she left Peking University with a master’s degree in international relations. After two years’ study in China, she said the education system has a number of problems.
“Part of the reason I decided to do a masters in China was to improve my Mandarin. I think that for international students who want to improve their language skills, studying a subject in the language you are learning really helps you to improve quickly,” she said.
Despite her background in Chinese studies, she encountered many challenges. Perhaps the most striking difference between Eastern and Western universities is the student -teacher relationship.
“In the West, it’s quite normal and expected that students at university level disagree with some of their teachers’ opinions and debate with them in class. In China, a lot of students seem to think the teachers are always right and will never disagree with them, especially in front of the whole class,” she said.
“I think this seems very strange to a lot of international students. It sometimes means that there is not much debate in class, or even that the teacher ends up speaking for the entire duration of the class with very little interaction with the students.
Another thing she found difficult was how to behave around teachers in China, especially the supervisors.
“Many Chinese students seemed to give their teachers a lot of presents. That’s quite different from the UK; we might give a teacher a small present at the end of the year after they have given us our marks, but not before, because it would seem very suspect. Sometimes I found it hard to know the right thing to do in those situations,” she said.
“The student-teacher relationship in China is unequal. Sometimes I felt the teachers thought of the students [db:内容2]