How Chinese students are changing universities around the world

How Chinese students are changing universities around the world

October 13, 2019 61 By Stanley Isaacs


These students are recreating China’s most
popular dating show on their college campus. – So when I heard there’s going to be a Chinese
TV style dating show, I was thinking like 50 people in a classroom. But this is on a whole different level. And it’s all happening in Illinois. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
enrolls more than 5,000 Chinese students. So many it’s been called “the University
of China at Illinois.” And it’s part of a global trend. In the US alone, there are now six times more
Chinese students than there were just two decades ago. They account for one-third of all international
students and contributed nearly $14 billion to the US economy in 2017. But what are the implications of so many students
and so much money coming from just one country? We’re traveling around the world to find
out how China is reshaping…basically everything. This week…UNIVERSITIES. I’m Isabelle Niu reporting for Quartz. You’re watching Because China. Xianghua Feng is a fourth year accounting
student from China. Chinese students like Xianghua are here because
of two converging trends. The first is pretty straightforward: More Chinese students study abroad than ever before, thanks to the country’s fast-expanding middle class. The second reason is that universities in
rich, English-speaking countries have been admitting more and more international students
because they need money. Professor Hans de Wit studies international
higher education. He says this is a relatively recent shift. – So when did universities begin to see international
students as a revenue source? – That depends a little bit by country. The countries which were on the forefront
were Australia and the United Kingdom. British and Australian universities introduced
full international fees in the 1980s. Universities began aggressively marketing
and recruiting. By 2010, the number of international students
jumped by 600% in the UK and 2,000% in Australia. In the US, it happened a little later, partly because higher education has always been pretty expensive. – Tuition is very high for both local
students and international students, so there was not an active need until recently to recruit
international students for income reasons. Then 2008 happened. Funding for state universities was already
in decline before 2008, but the recession made things much worse. So state universities were forced to find
revenue elsewhere, and they found it in China. This chart sums it up. Here’s the growth trend of Chinese students
in the US before the recession. And this is post-recession. If we think of higher education as an export,
then this is one area where the US has a huge trade surplus with China. All the Chinese students I talked to say they chose a state school because they can get more bang for their buck. That’s true, even though a Chinese undergrad at a state university like UIUC pays about $20,000 more in tuition every year
than an in-state student. Universities use revenue from international students to subsidize other operations, including creating scholarships for Americans. And the numbers show that it’s not just good
for the school, it’s good for the American economy. – They shop in the local stores, they travel
back and forth to China, they spend money in terms of their social life or traveling
within the United States, so every part of the United States benefits from that. But there are also serious risks with relying
on Chinese students’ tuition. – If you are becoming so dependent on foreign
students and in particular on one group, Chinese students, then your sustainability
as an institution becomes very fragile. The business school gets about 20% of its revenue from more than 800 Chinese students enrolled here. – And that’s a big enough number that that’s something you want to be able to protect yourself against. This is the dean of the business school at UIUC,
Jeff Brown. In 2017, his school did something unprecedented. The business school and engineering school
together took out a $60 million insurance policy, in case of a sudden drop in Chinese
student enrollment. – As far as we know we’re the first to do
this anywhere in the world. And we’ve gotten a lot of phone calls from other
universities about how to do it. I know a lot of places are interested in doing
it. And that deal was before President Trump’s trade war with China. – I think the risks that we identified
back four years ago is still very much there. One could argue actually that the risk is perhaps elevated. And making sure international students
succeed takes resources. UIUC has invested a lot in programs that help
international students adjust to American campus life. The university even broadcasted its football
games in Mandarin in 2015. – I think the more that our domestic students and the students from China get to interact with each other and frankly I think that’s not just good for the
University of Illinois. I think that’s good for the world. But differences in language and culture make
those kinds of exchanges more difficult for everyone. – I think that there’s definitely a stigma there, that they are kind of viewed as a different group of people that have different interests, I think if there was more interaction between the groups and there was less divide, it would only help the campus grow. If students go through the entire four years of college without interacting with the wider community, or improving their English, that’s a missed opportunity for both domestic students and the international students themselves. That doesn’t mean students aren’t happy. Those I talked to said they’re creating their own version of the American college experience. – Socially, I’ve had a blast. I’ve met lots of great people, lots of great friends. I personally think my college experience would have changed really at all with international students or without. Again, I believe that college is what you make of it.