A semester studying in China to sharpen your Mandarin skills has become a smart move for college students with an eye on the international job market. Now growing numbers of students are heading to China for the long haul and enrolling in both undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
Peking University in particular has seen a veritable boom in international student enrollment. This year about 900 new international students enrolled in degree programs, with roughly 400 enrolling in undergraduate programs, 400 in master's degree programs and 75 pursuing doctoral studies. That may seem like a small amount, but that's up 17 percent from the previous year. An anonymous official at the school told China Daily the number of international students on campus has increased "about 20 percent each year since 2009." Overall about 290,000 international students studied in China in 2011 and 118,837 of them are enrolled in degree programs, up 10.6 percent since 2010.
What kinds of degrees are students pursuing? Studying Chinese is popular with international students as is international business, but surprisingly, the majority are enrolling in social science programs. Alina Scalora, an American enrolled in a graduate public policy program at Peking University says she chose the school because she's "very interested in environmental policies in China. I want to know more about it and China itself."
Students coming from other parts of Asia who speak fluent Mandarin still make up the majority, but every year more like Scalora are coming from North America and Europe. What might make China increasingly appealing to Americans is that although international students have to pay more to attend, the annual tuition for a social science degree is only about $4,200 USD—significantly less than what students studying here would pay. It costs more to get instruction in English, but the $5,200-$6,100 USD cost per year is still a fraction of what American students are used to forking over for just a couple of classes.
Financial savings aside, the bottom line is that China's an amazing place to live and study. However, one problem is that schools there aren't expanding their enrollment capacity. It's already incredibly competitive to get into Chinese universities—only 3 percent of students will be accepted and the competition's even tougher for a top school like Peking University—so if more international students enroll, where will the Chinese students go to school?
After all, most Chinese people don't come from an uber wealthy family that's willing to pay big bucks to send their child to college in the United States. Without a real plan for providing higher education to more Chinese people, the same kind of backlash we've seen here in the U.S. over international students "taking" American students' spots on campus could really start to brew.