On September 22, Project Pengyou was honored to collaborate with the US Embassy in Beijing to plan and organize a conference to encourage more Americans to study in China. Jointly hosted by the Embassy of the United States in China and the Chinese Ministry of Education, participants included education stakeholders from government, universities, enterprises, and NGO and GONGOs. During the day-long event, participants shared best practices, identified challenges and posed potential recommendations to increase exchange, improve accessibility of resources for study, and show logistical and practical application of study abroad for students.
Over the past few years, fewer Americans have been choosing to study in China. Despite increasing awareness in the US and the rest of the world that the U.S.-China relationship is ever more important and complex, the numbers of U.S. students coming to China has declined (4.5% according to the 2015 Open Doors report).
There are a variety of reasons that might be the cause of this decline, including perceived and real barriers to entry such as visas, language requirements, credit transfer, and economic burden. Additionally, there was a sense that the older, more traditional-style study abroad programs are becoming less popular and are being replaced by more flexible, boutique programs that offer concrete benefits for students.
Both the US and Chinese governments now recognize the importance of people to people exchanges between our two nations. The Chinese government has set a goal of having 500,000 foreign students by 2020, and over 800 Chinese institutions accept foreign students. In addition to President Obama’s 2011 100,000 Strong Initiative, the United States government has a newly established study abroad office in the U.S. Department of State that seeks to increase American study abroad.
There are a dearth of government-funded opportunities for students to study in China. Chinese universities currently offer 5,000 scholarships to American students for study in China. The United States government offers a number of scholarship programs, including the Fulbright program, which is the U.S. government’s oldest and most prestigious educational exchange program.
After a long day of discussion, participants were asked to put forth some recommendations addressing these challenges. See the list below:
*Note that these were outcomes from the conference dialogue and do not reflect decisions made by the U.S. Embassy.
1. Ensure High-Level Leadership Support for Study Abroad by Government and Universities:
High-level leadership by government and at universities is needed to raise the profile of study abroad generally. More specifically, leadership needs to focus on the importance and benefits of studying in China. Chinese and American students need to recognize how study abroad experiences develop important career skills. Students need to feel that study in China is “do-able” and can enhance their future career and life.
Government should expand its support and identify new innovative ways to encourage and promote China as a study abroad destination. The U.S. government could demonstrate study abroad in China is a priority by convening more events, producing statements by high- level speakers, and encouraging the private sector to provide financial support.
2. Strengthen Marketing on U.S. campuses and Prepare Students Early:
Increased in-reach and marketing on U.S. campuses is necessary to increase study abroad to China. Early marketing is key to ensure larger numbers of American students study abroad in China in the future. One such effort is the One Million Strong initiative, which seeks to expand to one million the number of U.S. K-12 students learning Mandarin by 2020. The initiative will build a pipeline of future students with facility in the language.
Beyond expanding Mandarin language skills among students, U.S. faculty and administrators need to understand opportunities in China so they can promote them more effectively on campuses. In order to motivate students, marketing efforts should more explicitly demonstrate the career and life benefits study abroad affords in general, and specifically to China. Study abroad promotion should focus on the leadership and transferable career skills that are not only tailored to China, but to global work competencies. Both the study abroad and academic advisers need to be involved in this process.
3. Adjust Study Abroad Curricula to Match Millennial Needs:
Education providers should consider adjusting their curricula to accommodate the needs and desires of “millennial” students. Transfer credits should ideally be applicable to the students’ major or minor, or other degree requirements, and not just transfer as “elective credit”. This includes greater collaboration among administrators and faculty and among government and institutions aimed at developing relevant curriculum and sharing course information with U.S. students.
4. Engage Alumni:
Alumni of study abroad programs should be better utilized to engage potential students in recruitment efforts and for career mentoring.
5. Broaden Scholarship Flexibility and Public-Private Engagement:
Scholarships, particularly Chinese government scholarships, should be more flexible and public-private partnerships that support study abroad should be encouraged.
6. Deepen Research of American Perceptions Towards China Study:
Further research should be conducted to develop an in-depth and focused understanding of American student perspectives on study in China, and include both U.S. and Chinese educational institutions.
The study should determine if these institutions have structural supports or challenges, such as financial conflicts of interest against study abroad. A survey could be conducted to examine the reasons behind a student’s choice of not studying abroad in China.
7. Develop a Comprehensive Online Resource:
The development of an e-based means of consolidating information on study abroad opportunities in China that serves students, American and Chinese service providers, U.S. and Chinese governments, and U.S. and Chinese educational institutions could streamline the process.
Overall, it was an informative and productive day. This was a rare chance for leaders in the field of US-China educational exchange to come together and work on this challenge.
We want to thank the wonderful staff at the US Embassy for all of their time and effort and for the opportunity to convene and discuss such a vital issue. We would also like to thank the hard-working translators for allowing the conference to flow seamlessly and simultaneously in both English and Mandarin, as well as our wonderful moderator, Sabina Brady, who offered her own insight as well as guiding the discussion for the day. Finally, we’d like to thank all of the participants for their time, passion, and dedication to international education. We hope that in the future we can all move forward together to build a better ecosystem and that more Americans will choose to study in China.