Singh, J.K.N. (2022). Benefits of studying in China: International students from top-tier Chinese universities ‘spill the beans’, Journal of Further and Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/0309877X.2022.2052822
International education is a fast-changing phenomenon in global higher education. For decades, China has been the ‘sending’ country of international students to English-speaking countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. By the twenty-first century, the role has reversed and China is one of the fastest growing ‘receiving’ countries of international students. In 2018, there were a total of 492,185 international students from 196 countries pursuing their studies in 1,004 higher education institutions; the majority came from Asia (59.95%) followed by Africa (16.57%), Europe (14.96%), America (7.26%) and Oceania (1.27%) (Chinese Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, 2018). Given the exponential growth of international students in China, understanding the advantages of studying there is under-researched.
Given the expansion of international student numbers, limited scholarly articles have focused on the advantages of studying in China, an emerging international education hub, based on the voices of international students themselves (Jiani 2017; Wen and Hu 2019). To respond to this empirical gap, this paper investigates the benefits of seeking international education in China, based on the lived experiences of international students. The main research question is ‘What are the anticipated benefits of seeking international higher education for international students enrolled at two prestigious universities in China?’ Against this backdrop, 30 semi-structured qualitative interviews with international students from Asia, Africa and Western countries enrolled at two prestigious universities in Beijing and Hubei Province were conducted.
The study results have highlighted three main benefits from studying in China: 1) enrichment of future employment possibilities; 2) mastering Mandarin language; and 3) development of knowledge, skills and experiences. These benefits are not mutually exclusive; they have similar end goals to improve development of students’ home countries (mainly in Asia and Africa).
The principal benefit of studying in China is employment prospects. Many students wish to stay in China upon graduation for employment purpose. International students are very confident that they will secure jobs in China as opposed to their home or third countries. They view that employment opportunities for them relatively poorer in their home countries.Some reasons include relatively low pay and limited prospects in gaining employment compared to China’s labour market. The growth of China’s economy brings more job opportunities with higher salary packages and requires highly skilled migrants to support that growth.
On the other side, many students, particularly from Asia and Africa, aspire to contribute to their home countries through employment opportunities. Many mentioned that they wanted to work in Chinese companies, the government sector or even return to their previous, home-country positions. This is because there are a lot of Chinese companies mushrooming in their respective home countries and these students want to contribute to their home countries by emulating China success especially in economy.
The second benefit is learning Mandarin. Many students, especially undergraduates, are interested in learning this language. Firstly, students mainly from Asia, Europe and South America believe that Mandarin will an important business/trade language between their home countries and China. Students from Asia and Africa wanted to learn Mandarin because they perceived themselves as future ambassadors or leaders representing their country of origin in future trade dealings and business investments with China. For students majoring in Chinese, it is vital to learn Mandarin in a Chinese university to obtain in-depth assistance from native speakers and educators, as opposed to their home country. They also have the chance to immerse themselves in the Chinese community and understand Chinese culture.
Developing knowledge, skills and experience in China
The third benefit is to develop significant knowledge, skills and experience for their career development. Students, especially undergraduates from Africa, are amazed how rapidly China has grown in terms of economy, management, business and investment (Jiani 2017). Based on this rapid economic development, students wanted to learn the business ‘tricks of the trade’, economic policies, management and investment skills so that they could replicate that learning in their home countries. Singh and Jamil (2021) reported that international students especially from the under-developed nations in Asia and Africa wanted to contribute to their community via application of knowledge, technical and research skills acquired in Malaysia in positions such as university lecturers, researchers and trainers.
An overarching benefit of studying in China, based on international students’ lived experiences, is relating to their personal intrinsic motivations and benefits which is geared towards improving and strengthening their career and employment opportunities through meaningfully contributing to their home country’s social and economic development by gaining employment in the government sector, in Chinese companies in home countries or returning to previous employment. Specifically, in home-country employment, students contribute by applying business/trade educational knowledge, management, investment and soft skills, as well as international educational experiences. Later benefits of international education include employment opportunities in China due its rapid economic development and wide job opportunities, as well as learning Mandarin for future business and trade dealings with China and reconnection to cultural identity.
Hence, the findings of this study have contributed to the international education literature as the findings have established important nuances of key personalised motivations and benefits of studying in China and therefore extended the modified push-pull theory in relation to economic, social, cultural, career (employment) and educational outcomes that mostly advantage home-country development. These findings are also opposing the framework of pull or push factors that only focused on external factors instead of personalised aspects to gain international education.
Jiani, M. A. (2017). Why and how international students choose mainland China as a higher education study abroad destination, Higher Education, 74 (4), 563–579. doi:10.1007/s10734-016-0066-0
Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China (2018). Statistical report on international students in China for 2018. Accessed 19 October 2021. http://en.moe.gov.cn/documents/reports/201904/t20190418_378692.html
Singh, J. K. N. & Jamil, H. (2021). International education and meaningful contributions to society: Exploration of postgraduate international students’ perspectives studying in a Malaysian research university, International Journal of Educational Development, 81. doi:10.1016/j.ijedudev.2020.102331
Dr Jasvir Kaur Nachatar Singh is an award-winning Senior Lecturer at the Department of Management and Marketing, La Trobe Business School, La Trobe University, Australia. In 2020, Dr Singh received an international teaching recognition from Advance HE, UK as a Fellow (FHEA). In 2018, Dr Singh received two La Trobe University Teaching Awards and Best Presenter Award at the Global Higher Education Forum, Malaysia. Dr Singh’s research expertise is in higher education with a particular interest exploring international students’ lived experiences of academic success, employability, career aspirations and learning experiences. Dr Singh also explores lived experiences of skilled migrants and international academics. Dr Singh has published numerous articles in high impact journals and has presented at various national and international higher education conferences. In 2021, Dr Singh was appointed as a Research Fellow at the Malaysian National Higher Education Research Institute. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
Managing editor: Lisa (Zhiyun) Bian