A new report from the Institute of International Education (IIE) – US Students in China: Meeting the goals of the 100,000 Strong Initiative – has shown that US students are increasingly choosing to explore China’s higher educational offerings in a range of ways other than through traditional for-credit programmes.
Over the past decade, the IIE’s Open Doors reports have demonstrated that the number of American students earning academic credit from their home universities for studying in China has risen on average by 18% each year.
Indeed, China has come to rank not only fifth most popular country overall but also the most popular study-abroad destination outside Western Europe for this group of students since 2007.
But what the reports have not been able to enumerate is the involvement of American students in non-credit study-abroad programmes in this increasingly important strategic partner country.
The IIE Center for Academic Mobility Research, with support from the Ford Foundation’s Beijing office, therefore sought to collate data on the changing dynamics of learning opportunities available to American students in China – and their participation therein.
The study surveyed nearly 1,700 higher education institutions in the US between October 2011 and September 2012, achieving a response rate of 34%.
Report author Raisa Belyavina established that, throughout the 2011 calendar year, more than 26,000 American students engaged in the full breadth of educational activities in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau – 11,000 more than those counted in the Open Doors study who had been identified solely according to the criterion of studying abroad for academic credit.
The other students participated in various non-credit learning experiences such as study tours, language study, internships and volunteering or service learning.
The most popular among these was found to be study tours, with nearly 4,000 American students participating in 2011 alone.The IIE deputy vice-president for research and evaluation, Rajika Bhandari, observed that respondents attributed the popularity of study tours to the few language prerequisites as well as to convenient scheduling options.
While few institutions were able to report on volunteering and internships, most expected to see growth in these areas as well as in joint-research opportunities.
Explaining the latter, Bhandari noted: “Joint-research opportunities were viewed as especially important to students for their ability to enhance future career prospects, improve language skills and offer cultural insights into this country that is of strategic importance to the United States.”
A further 2,200 students were reported to be pursuing full degrees at Chinese universities in the 2010-11 academic year, a 23% increase from last year according to the IIE’s Project Atlas Report on US Students in Overseas Degree Programs. Of these, more than half (53%) were identified as pursuing postgraduate degrees.
The importance of a study of this sort cannot be over-emphasised, explained Bhandari: “Now that we have this baseline, we can measure more accurately the next cohort of students.”
“It is important to emphasise that this study only just begins to scratch the surface. Its outcomes reflect both countries’ commitment to pursuing the 100,000 Strong Initiative,” she added.
Announced in 2009, the US State Department’s 100,000 Strong Initiative responds to a bilateral desire to foster US-Chinese relations through increasing the number and diversity of American students involved in educational activities in China. The cumulative goal is to have 100,000 Americans studying in China by 2014.
Not only will this initiative help train the next generation, but it will also help to rectify a comparative imbalance between the two countries, in the form of the numbers of Chinese students who pursue educational opportunities in the US – nearly 200,000 in 2010-11 alone.
Belyavina agrees: “There is a lot of room for further engagement between the US higher education sector and China.” Importantly, therefore, this report “not only helps to establish methodological metrics for implementing effective data gathering systems in the future among responding institutions, but it sets an important precedent for further research”.
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