Study abroad guide in China

Traditional Chinese culture places a strong emphasis on education, so there is no lack of options for those who wish to receive quality education in China. China has also become a top destination for international students. As of 2013, China is the most popular country in Asia for international students, and ranks third overall among countries. As of 2018, the country has the world’s second highest number of top universities.

China’s universities offer many different types of courses, and some of them are regularly ranked among the top universities in the world. China’s most prestigious general universities are Peking University (北京大学) in Beijing and Fudan University (复旦大学) in Shanghai, while Tsinghua University (清华大学) in Beijing and Shanghai Jiaotong University (上海交通大学) in Shanghai are the top schools for technical subjects. Of course there are many others, and some of those are excellent as well.

International education
As of January 2015, the International Schools Consultancy (ISC) listed China as having 481 international schools. ISC defines an ‘international school’ in the following terms “ISC includes an international school if the school delivers a curriculum to any combination of pre-school, primary or secondary students, wholly or partly in English outside an English-speaking country, or if a school in a country where English is one of the official languages, offers an English-medium curriculum other than the country’s national curriculum and is international in its orientation.” This definition is used by publications including The Economist. There were 177,400 students enrolled in international schools in 2014.

2013 Nicholas Brummitt, managing director of ISC, reported that there were 338 international schools in Mainland China as of 2013, with 184,073 students. Slightly more than half of the international schools are in the major expatriate areas of China: Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong Province, while the remainder are in other areas. Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou have the most international schools while significant numbers also exist in Shenzhen and Chengdu.

Many international schools in Beijing and Shanghai, in accordance with Chinese law, are only permitted to enroll students having citizenship in areas other than Mainland China. This is because Mainland Chinese students are required to have a certain curriculum, and schools that do not include this curriculum are not permitted to enroll Mainlanders. Mainlander children who hold foreign passports are permitted to attend these schools. Students from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan may attend international schools for foreigners. As of 2014, 19 international schools in Beijing are restricted to non-Mainlanders. There are also schools using international curricula that accept both Mainlander and non-Mainlander students.

By 2004 increased international business operations resulted in an increase of foreigner children. Many of the original post-1949 international schools used International Baccalaureate and North American curricula. By 2004 many international schools in Beijing and Shanghai using the British curricula had opened. The number of international schools in 2013 is an increase from 22 international schools in 2001, with a total of 25 times fewer students. By the 2010s many Mainland Chinese parents began sending their children to international schools which accept Mainland students to increase their children’s chances of going overseas.

There is an increasing number of international universities representation in China in recent years, including but not limited to CEIBS and Yale Center Beijing. Columbia Global Centers Beijing opened in 2009 and Harvard Institute Shanghai opened in 2010. Cornell Global is planning to have presence in both Beijing and Shanghai. MIT has an innovation node in Hong Kong. Stanford University established an academic center in Peking University.

Higher education
By the end of 2004, China had 2,236 schools of Higher Learning, with over 20 million students; the gross rate of enrollment in schools of higher learning reached 19 percent. Postgraduate education is the fastest growing sector, with 24.1 percent more students recruited and 25.9 percent more researchers than the year before. This enrollment growth indicates that China has entered the stage of popular education. The UNESCO world higher education report of June 2003 pointed out that the student population of China’s schools of higher learning had doubled in a very short period of time, and was the world’s largest.

Particular attention has been paid to improving systems in recent reforms. Many industrial multiversities and specialist colleges have been established, strengthening some incomplete subjects and establishing new specialties, e.g., automation, nuclear power, energy resources, oceanography, nuclear physics, computer science, polymer chemistry, polymer physics, radiochemistry, physical chemistry and biophysics. A project for creating 100 world class universities began in 1993, which has merged 708 schools of higher learning into 302 universities. Merging schools of higher learning has produced far-reaching reform of higher education management, optimizing of educational resources allocation, and further improving teaching quality and school standards. More than 30 universities have received help from a special national fund to support their attainment of world elite class.

Between 1999 and 2003, enrollment in higher education increased from 1.6 million to 3.82 million. In 2004, the total enrollment in ordinary schools of higher learning was 4.473 million, 651,000 more than in 2003. Schools of higher learning and research institutes enrolled 326,000 postgraduate students, 57,000 more than the previous year. In 2010 China is expecting 6.3 million students to graduate from College or University, with 63% likely to enter the work force.

The contribution to China’s economic construction and social development made by research in the higher education sector is becoming ever more evident. By strengthening cooperation among their production, teaching and research, schools of higher learning are speeding up the process in turning sci-tech research results into products, giving rise to many new and hi-tech enterprises and important innovations. Forty-three national university sci-tech parks have been started or approved, some of which have become important bases for commercializing research.

Overseas students
The number of foreigners wanting to study in China has been rising by approximately 20% annually since the reform and opening period began. According to official government figures 195,503 overseas students from 188 countries and regions came to study on the mainland in 2007 although the number is believed to be somewhere around the 300,000 region, because the government’s figures do not include students studying at private language schools. This makes China the world’s sixth-largest study abroad destination.

According to reports, South Korea, Japan, The United States, Vietnam and Thailand were the five biggest source countries, and the number of students from European source countries is increasing. Currently the Chinese government offers over 10,000 scholarships to foreign students, though this is set to rise by approximately 3,000 within the next year.

International students are increasingly studying in China. China’s economy is improving more quickly than had been predicted, i.e. sizable economic growth by 2015 has been predicted as opposed to 2050. China has already drawn the attention of the West for its growth rates, and the 2008 Olympic Games and Shanghai Expo 2010 have intensified this positive attention. Another factor that draws students to China is the considerably lower cost of living in China compared to most western countries. Finally, major cities in China such as Beijing and Shanghai already have a strong international presence.

Currently China has around 1,000 colleges and universities. Leading universities such as Peking University, Tsinghua University, and Fudan University, have already gained international reputation for outstanding teaching and research facilities. China has signed agreements with almost 40 countries such as France, Great Britain, the United States, Russia, etc., to recognize select diplomas. Many Chinese universities such as United International College now offer degrees in English enabling students with no knowledge of the Chinese language to study there.

University programs

Language trainees
Universities accept students who have achieved the minimum of a high-school education for courses in the Chinese language. These courses usually last 1 or 2 years. Students are given certificates after they complete their course. Students who do not speak Chinese and want to study further in China are usually required to complete a language-training course.

Undergraduate degrees usually require 4 to 5 years of study. International students will have classes together with Chinese students. Taking each student’s past education into account, some classes can be added or removed accordingly. Students will receive a Bachelor’s degree after passing the necessary exams and completing a thesis.

Master’s degrees are granted after 2 to 3 years of study. Oral examinations are also taken as well as written exams and a postgraduate thesis.

Prestigious programs include Yenching Academy at Peking University and Schwarzman Scholars at Tsinghua University, both in Beijing.

Doctoral students
Usually 4 to 5 years of study are needed to obtain a PhD.

Research scholars
Research is usually conducted independently by the student under the supervision of an assigned tutor. Any surveys, experiments, interviews, or visits that a research scholar has to make need to be arranged beforehand and authorised.

Double First Class University Plan
The w:Double First Class University Plan or Double Top University Plan (Chinese: 双一流) is a Chinese government plan conceived in 2015 to comprehensively develop a group of elite Chinese universities and individual university departments into world class universities and disciplines by the end of 2050.

The full list of the sponsored universities and disciplines was published in September 2017, which includes 42 first class universities (36 Class A schools and 6 Class B schools) and 465 first class disciplines (spread among 140 schools including the first class universities).

Short-term training courses
Short-term courses are now offered in many areas such as Chinese literature, calligraphy, economics, architecture, Chinese law, traditional Chinese medicine, art and sports. Courses are offered during the holidays as well as term time.

Foreign students can continue their studies and obtain Master’s or doctoral degrees in China’s universities. Some universities offer courses taught in foreign languages, but most courses will be in Chinese. You will need to demonstrate sufficient proficiency in Chinese before you can enroll on such a course. You do this by passing the HSK test (汉语水平考试), the official way to certify your skills on a Basic, Intermediate or Advanced level. The test involves reading, writing and listening, but no oral. See the HSK homepage for dates and locations.

Learning Chinese
There are many opportunities to learn Chinese in China, including university courses and special programs. Scholarships may be available, from your home country or the Chinese government. In any city with a sizeable expat community, you can also find private classes, which you can take on the side while working in China.

Some people get a job in China with the hope that they’ll be able to pick up Chinese naturally along the way. This isn’t a great idea—difficulties with tones, characters, and to a lesser extent grammar mean that it’s difficult to progress in the language without a solid foundation from a skilled teacher. A better idea is to start by taking a class (one semester or a one-month intensive course might be enough if your teacher is good) to get a good foundation.

Consider your destination carefully. You’ll learn much faster if your friends or coworkers and people on the street are speaking Mandarin to each other. This basically means a northern city (like Beijing, Harbin, or Xi’an) or a city with huge numbers of residents from different parts of the country (like Shanghai or Shenzhen). Be aware that migrant cities like Shenzhen will have a variety of nonstandard accents, which is good for improving your listening at a more advanced level, but might make it harder to improve your own pronunciation.

Some basic information to get you started is in the Chinese phrasebook.

In order to promote its culture and language, the Chinese government offers scholarships to foreigners who want to study in China. Partial scholarships will cover tuition fees only. Full scholarships cover pretty much everything, including books, rent, some medical coverage, and a monthly allowance for food and expenses. Although studying pins you down to a specific city and limits the time you can spend travelling, a scholarship is a great way to cut through some red tape, get a Residence Permit and, if you’re lucky, live in China practically for free.

To enquire about scholarships, directly contact the embassy in your area, or ask around at universities and language schools that have China-related courses. Scholarships are distributed by quota to each country therefore you will be competing against your fellow citizens, not against the entire world. The procedure varies from country to country, but normally requires the following paperwork:

authorised copies of your highest (preferably university) degree, including exam scores;
two letters of recommendation
proof of a full health check-up (blood-test, ECG, X-Ray, etc.)
your reason for study
plenty of passport-sized photos

All of this is shipped by the embassy to Beijing, which then decides who is accepted, where, and under what conditions. Applications are usually decided by the end of March, but the answer may not come until as late as August, with classes starting in September.

If all goes well, this will get you a letter of acceptance by the university of your choice, plus a visa allowing you to stay in China for about two months. Once in China, you will have to do the medical tests all over again, and upgrade the visa to a residence permit. This is where being part of a university comes in handy, as they should be able to handle all of the paperwork, going so far as to bring a medical team on campus to check you up — more preferable to running from police station to hospital to consulate, especially if you don’t speak Chinese!

When all is said and done, you will have a residence permit that lets you stay one year in China, lets you leave and enter the country as you want, and a fair ability to travel during weekends, holidays, and the occasional class-skipping stint.

For more information, visit the China Scholarship Council and China Service Center for Scholarly Exchanges websites.

Only apply for scholarships through official channels. Beware of “application agent” scammers who will happily take your money and give you a useless fake acceptance letter, which you may only discover isn’t genuine when you try to apply for your visa.