CHINA: Ambitious plans to attract foreign students

China's ambitious plans to turn itself into an innovation economy include a big increase in the number of foreign students, turning the country into an education 'hub', a top Chinese education ministry official told an international conference in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, new official figures revealed that there are now 31 million higher education students in China - a 35% increase in five years.

The number of foreign students in China is currently around 260,000 including those on short-term programmes.

"We believe that by 2015 the international student population in China will reach 350,000 students and by 2020 [it will reach] 500,000," said Shen Yang, deputy director-general of the department of international cooperation and exchanges in the Ministry of Education.

Admitting it was a hugely ambitious target, Shen said: "We believe we will make it."

"China has been doing extremely well sending student to all parts of the world to study and we still have 950,000 students currently in other countries," Shen told the Going Global conference organised by the British Council.

China has seen huge growth in its own student numbers and is hoping to increase enrolment in higher education further, to 40% of the school-leaving cohort by 2020. "And now we want students from other countries...we also want to be an [education] hub," Shen said.

Currently the largest number of international students in China are from Korea, followed by the US and Japan. But in order to reach the target of half a million foreign students, Shen said China would not just develop country-to-country student exchanges and contacts but also build on regional cooperation with the European Union, Association of South East Asian Nations, North East Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Arab World.

"We will also emphasise a multilateral approach that will build up the network [of education exchanges]," Shen said.

Credit transfer agreements and mutual recognition of academic credentials with other countries were an important part of realising this plan. Shen added that mutual degree recognition agreements had been signed with 34 countries.

Other ways to increase the foreign student population included more courses taught in English, scholarships and attracting talented faculty, he said.

But China was also interested in more jointly run programmes with foreign universities such as a recent agreement signed with New York University to set up a campus in Shanghai in collaboration with a Chinese university.

"We aim to welcome more world-class universities to come to China to participate in our development," Shen said.

On Thursday the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) published figures that showed China's higher education institutions of various forms had some 31 million students enrolled in 2010, up 35% on the number in 2005.

According to the official newspaper The People's Daily, the NBS series report counted eight million more students last year than in 2005 - and around one million more than had been planned.

"The enrolment of undergraduate students and students at junior college level reached about 22 million, an increase of 43% compared to 2005. There were about 1.5 million postgraduate students and 5.4 million adult undergraduates and college students, increasing by 57% and 23% respectively compared to the previous year," the newspaper reported.

"In 2010, the gross enrolment rate in China's higher education reached 27%, an increase of nearly 6% compared to 2005. The figure is almost 2% higher than the planned goal." The qualifications of academics had also continued to rise, with more than 57% holding graduate degrees, a rise of nearly 17% from 2005.