China and the New World Order

Where now meets next.

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In last week’s bulletin I wrote about some of the economic factors affecting the Chinese economy and the impact on the world’s economy. This week I would like to share with you some of China’s higher education accomplishments and the potential impact on higher education colleges and universities worldwide.

Let’s begin as we did last week, with shi shi qui shi (truth from facts)

China’s Higher Education Statistics

According to the Chinese Ministry of Education, China has built the world’s largest higher education system, with more than 40 million students. The enrollment rate in tertiary education in China increased from 40% in 2015 to 51.6% in 2019.

From 2016 to 2019, China invested more than $119 billion in scientific research and development in tertiary education.

China ranks # 1 in the world in the number of MOOCs offered. The Chinese Ministry of Education reported that in 2020, China had more than 30 MOOC platforms that offered more than 34,000 courses. A total of 540 million Chinese people have taken at least one MOOC course and 150 million university students have received MOOC credits.

Chinese Enrollment Abroad

According to the Chinese Ministry of Education, 703,500 Chinese students studied abroad last year, an increase of 6.25% from the previous year.

From 2016 to 2019, 2.5 million Chinese students studied abroad and 80% returned to China after graduation.

Inbound international student enrollment in China

In 2018, 492,185 international students studied in China.

54% of all international students studying in China are from Belt and Road countries and a majority receive scholarships from the Chinese government.

In 2003, there were 1,793 African students studying in China. In 2018, the number was 81,562, a 4,549% increase. China is second only to France in the number of African students studying abroad.

Chinese international agreements

By the end of 2020, China’s Ministry of Education had approved and signed agreements with 2,332 international colleges and universities.

Since the signing in 2000 of the first Sino-UK Trans National Education Program, between Shanghai University of Finance and Economics and the University of Southampton, 244 active joint programs and 30 joint institutions have been set up between the two countries.

As of June 2020, there were 131 international branch campuses in China.

Hungary will host the first Chinese university in the European Union when Fudan University opens up a branch campus in 2024 in Budapest. Up to 6,000 students will study economics, medicine, engineering sciences, and international relations.

China and Hungary will create a joint technology transfer center in Chongqing that will focus on renewable energy and waste management.

There are more than 100 Confucius Institutes in Europe.

In 2018, a group of universities collaborated to form the University Consortium of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. In 2019, China strengthened this collaboration with 60 countries from Europe, Great Britain, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and the United States.

In 2019, the Chinese Academy of Sciences signed a memorandum of understanding with the African Academy of Sciences to collaborate on research, skills development, and technology transfer.

Chinese academic achievements

In 2020, Tsinghua University became the first Chinese university to be listed in the top 20 in the annual Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Fudan University and Zhejiang University were ranked in the top 100 universities worldwide.

Tsinghua University’s civil engineering, computer science, and engineering departments topped US News and World Report’s Best Global University Discipline Rankings, surpassing Harvard, MIT, and Stanford universities.

In 2020, China overtook the UK on the annual list of countries with the most highly cited scholars. China ranks now only behind the United States.


What do all these facts and statistics mean to the future of Chinese student mobility and Chinese students’ enrollments? The magnitude, depth and integration of Chinese educational objectives and accomplishments signals, in my opinion, fewer Chinese students studying abroad and more international students studying in China.

Many international colleges and universities, addicted to robust Chinese student enrollments, and allergic to the reality that future Chinese enrollments will never replicate past enrollments, will continue to rely on outdated recruitment efforts and practices.

International deans and recruiters should re-calibrate their relationship with current  Chinese student recruitment initiatives and perhaps consider collaboration with Chinese colleges and universities and cohort marketing as two ways of reimagining Chinese student enrollment in the future.

Statesmanship and vision are the hallmarks of the current Chinese government and leadership. The country has ambitious goals, including ambitious higher education goals.

I don’t know if the ground is sloping east toward an Asian century, but I do agree with economist Ivan Tselichtchev who wrote in China Versus the West The Global Power Shift of the 21st Century, of the changing balance of power between China and the West and that includes China’s higher education ambition to change the balance of power between Chinese higher education and the rest of the world.