The tide is turning: studying and working in China

About seven or eight years ago, the foreign students I met in China were almost always studying Sinology. Since then, I have met more and more studying all sorts of subjects. Part of the reason is that the Chinese government keeps adding more levels of scholarships, the latest being the ‘Belt and Road’ scholarships. And part of the reason is that the prospects of employment after graduation have become a whole lot easier for foreign students. More importantly, people are attracted to a a rising power, with a difference: the Communist Party is in power and the socialism they are promoting is to improve the lives of everyone. As for my own interests, I find that international students want to come to China to study, especially in Marxism!

On the other side, of the more than half a million Chinese students who went overseas to study in the last year, the job prospects are not as good as they used to be. Now they find themselves in the mix with almost 8 million Chinese graduates. Those who studied overseas used to believe that a foreign degree would give them a fast track to a better job. But employers here have become more wary. They are not so readily able to evaluate the overseas qualification, and Chinese qualifications have come to be regarded as equal to foreign qualifications.

This issue has a number of levels. To begin with, many foreign universities still tend to regard China as a huge student mine. They see the Chinese tendency to save and then spend money on education as a way to deal with increasing budget shortfalls at home, as governments cut university budgets. This practice has begun to raise suspicions in China about the quality of overseas qualifications. Further, Chinese universities have been lifting their international game, so that they are increasingly on par with other universities overseas. Further, stories in China of graduates from foreign universities finding it difficult to get a good job in China have raised the question about whether it is really that useful to gain a foreign qualification.

So a shift is underway: more foreign students in China, questions about the quality of overseas qualifications. One of the signs of a rising power is not that people come to it for education and employment, rather than heading overseas.