In 2018, 22 percent of global international students ended up in the United States, although this percentage has been in consistent decline over the last few years.
In the same year, 10 percent of international students went to the UK and 10 percent to China.
Yes indeed, China is now equal second as a favourite for international students. It has outpaced 3 of the traditional post-WWII big five – Australia, Canada and New Zealand are now behind China.
How could this happen? The key is that a sign of a country’s openness and confidence on the global stage is how welcoming it is for international students. And of course how willing it is to provide financial support for such students. Scholarships are available for students from countries that are part of the Belt and Road Initiative, especially students from Africa, Central Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. If you are young enough and prepared to spend a year of intensive language study before beginning your studies, you too could land a scholarship. Even more, facilities at many universities have been upgraded, and the post-degree job opportunities in China or in the country of birth are bright indeed. As Matteo Giovannini observes: ‘Generous scholarships, investments on facilities and programs, unrestricted access to student visas and introduction of long-term residency permits for talent in specific fields of knowledge all have contributed to make China a friendly environment for talented foreigners’. And this is only the beginning: China is aiming for a staggering 500,000 international students by 2020.
So why is the Anglophone world declining. Perhaps Ahmed Baghdady, the manager of research and content development at WISE, says it best: ‘We’re seeing several movements of nationalism, and even hate speech and racism against international students from some countries’. His reference is of course to the United States, which has been demonising international students from more and more countries. But so also have Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Obviously, this approach is a sign of decline and weakness. As for the United Kingdom (an imperialist project that will come to an end in my lifetime with the independence of Scotland and the reunion of Ireland), the sheer uncertainties over its future are beginning to make it a doubtful destination.
Let me go back to an earlier observation: a sign of a country’s confidence on the global stage is how much it welcomes foreigners to engage, especially foreign students. Come to study, learn the language and culture, gain a world-class degree and perhaps even stay to work for a while. That was the UK in the 19th century and the USA in the 20th century. But no more. Increasingly it is China.