African Students in Chinese Universities
In recent years, China has become one of the most popular destinations for students from other developing countries, mainly African states, to seek higher education. The number of African students in Chinese universities reached a new peak of 81,562 in 2018, compared to less than 2,000 in 2003. It is worth asking how universities in China are attractive to African students and how those students benefit from this study experience overseas.

Growing Recognition of Chinese Higher Education

Speaking of opportunities to study abroad, most people immediately think of the U.S. and the U.K. as the ideal destinations, as the two countries occupied nine of the top 10 universities in the QS World University Rankings 2023. However, it is essential to notice that the Chinese universities’ performance in the world rankings is improving yearly, so many see them as providing an excellent academic environment for students as well.

In 2015, the two most prestigious universities in China, Peking and Tsinghua, ranked 51st and 47th in the QS World University Rankings. However, in the 2023 list, they ranked 12th and 14th respectively, showing that Chinese higher education is receiving more international recognition.

In 2018, 11% of students from Africa and the Middle East who chose to study abroad picked China as their destination. Additionally, the survey showed that universities in China are the sixth most popular among those students, ranking higher than both France and Switzerland.

Opportunities and Experiences of African Students in Chinese Universities

The fact that African students in Chinese Universities are becoming more common is significant due to China’s soft power diplomacy. As the Chinese government cooperates economically and politically with African states, it becomes more valuable and practical for African students to study in China. Indeed, China embraced those students with open arms.

First of all, the Chinese national government, local government, Confucius Institute and individual universities (including Peking university) have set up multiple scholarships for international students. Most of those scholarships cover all the fees of tuition and teaching materials, as well as living expenses. Some scholarships even provide free medical insurance and plane tickets to travel home and return to school.

Also, the Chinese government valued African students in their university as a successful soft power approach to push forward international cooperation. According to Global Times, in October 2021, China-Africa Institute held the First Forum on International Students from Africa named “We, the Inheritors of African-China Friendship,” with Martin Mpana, Dean of the African Diplomatic Corps and Ambassador of Cameroon to China, giving the opening speech. This encouraged more African students to pursue higher education in China.

Moreover, many significant figures in African politics had previous experience as a student in Chinese universities. For example, in 2005, 22 critical African politicians had received scholarships in China before, and eight of them explicitly worked on the diplomatic relationship with China.

African students that China Daily interviewed stated that studying and knowing about China helped their future careers as many Chinese-related investments and cooperations created jobs in their homeland. He also believed that learning from Chinese business could help to improve Africa’s economy.

Case Study: Peking University African Student Association

African students in Chinese universities would not feel alone, as many of them have their own student society. The Peking University African Student Association is one of them. The Association organizes many academic and social activities for African students. It also provides overseas African students with invitations and information to study at Peking University, including collaboration with African Student Associations from other schools like Tsinghua University.

In 2020, the Peking University African Student Association took a significant role in the Ninth Meeting of the China-Africa Think Tank Forum, showing their influence in promoting African students’ participation in Chinese academic activities.

Overall, the number of African students studying in Chinese universities continues to rise. This sizeable eastern economy could provide more opportunities for higher education for students from other developing countries.

– Ella Li
Photo: Flickr

Higher Education in China
On May 27, 2021, an intense debate on the distribution of educational resources and inequality in the accessibility of higher education in China took over China’s social media platforms. A young woman who graduated from the Affiliated High School of Peking University, one of the most advanced and highly ranked high schools in China’s political center, Beijing, posted a video that sparked this debate.

A Viral Video Highlights Inequality

The video showcases the daily routine of the female student studying in the Affiliated High School of Peking University, including creative and engaging syllabuses and various afterschool activities. The video highlighted “the unequal distribution of educational resources in China,” and combined with the fact that the students from this high school usually obtain access to good quality higher education after graduating, had triggered many negative responses and social discontent from people living in other regions of China.

The fact that Beijing students can get placements at universities much more easily than the majority of other Chinese people is unacceptable to many. The higher education priority enjoyed by first-tier Chinese cities reveals the deeper societal inequalities that China, at large, grapples with.

3 Facts About Higher Education in China

  1. Most Chinese universities allocate their undergraduate places by region and usually assign a significantly higher quota to their own region and do not take into account different provincial population densities. In 2016, Peking University, located in Beijing, gave 22 places to Beijing students in the digital information department, but only two places to Tianjin students and three places to Henan students for the same course. It is worth noting that Henan province has a population of about 99.4 million in comparison to Beijing, which has about 21.5 million, and Tianjin, which has about 15.6 million.
  2. There is a considerable quantity and quality difference in higher education in China between different cities and provinces. Qinghai, a remote province in China, had only 12 colleges and universities in 2021. In contrast, Beijing had 92 in the same year. Since the mid-1990s, China has developed “the “211” project and the more recent “985” project for transforming universities. The “985” project aimed to establish “world-class universities in the 21st century.” The “211” project aimed to strengthen higher education institutions in the 21st century. However, 12 out of 29 of the “985” universities and 36 out of 116 of the “211” universities are located in Beijing and Shanghai, the two most developed cities in China.
  3. In China, students in different regions write different papers in the National College Entrance Examinations and the difficulty of those papers is not the same. In fact, Beijing’s entrance exam is one of the easiest and Jiangsu Province has the most difficult exam.

All the facts above represent visible inequalities in access to higher education in China. Students in first-tier cities, such as Shanghai and Beijing, certainly enjoy easier access and better quality of higher education than students in other regions. Additionally, high school students from these areas receive the highest quality of secondary education as well.

High school life in China varies tremendously. When most high school students in Beijing could enjoy extra-curricular activities alongside their hard work, a six-episode documentary released in 2015 called “Gao Kao (The College Entrance Exam)” revealed the tough academic work and tension and fatigue of students living in relatively remote areas. These less privileged students may spend all their free time studying but still may not get access to the same higher education institutions as students in big cities.

Solutions to Higher Education Inequalities

Due to the widespread realization of inequality in accessing higher education in China, the Chinese government has proposed multiple solutions.

China has launched a special program for colleges and universities to provide opportunities for intelligent students in rural areas to access top universities more easily. The policies included an independent registration path for those outstanding rural students and lower grade requirements, aiming to help large numbers of students living in remote areas attain access to quality higher education.

According to China’s Ministry of Education (MOE), “Full implementation of reforms in higher education examinations and enrollment systems have led to greater equity in China’s college admission processes with more reasonable procedures which prioritize student merits more than ever.” In 2017, 30 provinces in China implemented preferential policies for students from rural migrant families to write the National College Entrance Examinations in the areas they reside in, leading to a 25% increase in the application rate in comparison to 2016. The MOE says that, due to “targeted national, local and higher education institution (HEI) programs, a total of 100,000 rural and underprivileged students were admitted to HEIs” in 2017, up 9.3% from 2016.

Although inequalities in the Chinese education system are deeply rooted, increased equity policies and the continued commitment of the Chinese government can improve access to quality higher education in China for all, especially students in smaller cities outside of Beijing and Shanghai.

– Ella Li
Photo: Flickr