Surpassing France, China has become the third largest destination for international students in 2014, a recent report issued by Tsinghua University said. According to the latest figures from the Chinese Ministry of Education, there are over 337,000 international students studying in the mainland, which account for 8 percent of all international students across the world.
During the past 10 years, international students keep swarming into the mainland at an average annual growth rate of 13.19 percent. Although the momentum has slowed down in recent years, China is still one of the most popular destinations for international students.
This development mirrors China's expanding influence in the international community, especially among its neighbors. Its robust economic performance triggers a spillover effect, which adds to China's charisma in other areas such as politics, culture and society. The growing number of international students is a reflection of the enhancement of China's soft power.
Meanwhile, China is the country with the largest number of students going overseas to further their studies. The number of Chinese students studying abroad reached 450,000 in 2014, with an average growth rate of over 20 percent each year. More importantly, 360,000 have returned to China after completing their studies. Since China's reform and opening-up policy started in 1978, the total number of Chinese students studying abroad has been 1.8 million, 74.48 percent of which have come back.
These statistics show that a virtuous circle of talent flow is taking shape in China. On the one hand, by drawing in talented young foreigners, China offers down-to-earth opportunities for these people to truly understand China. As the generation who will serve as the backbone of their nations someday, these people's ideas about China will make a huge difference in the future.
On the other hand, by inspiring more overseas students to come back after their studies, China is cultivating a generation with a real international vision and advanced thinking skills. With these people's engagement, China will find it easier to get more deeply involved in the international community.
However, there is no doubt that China needs to do more to make this virtuous circle more constructive. For example, statistics show that some Chinese universities are prejudiced and prefer to recruit students from developed countries.
However, the number of students from developed countries has remained stagnant in recent years, and has even declined in several cities, while the number of students from Asia, especially Southeast Asia and Central Asia, has increased rapidly. Therefore, China needs to shift its strategy, focusing on neighboring countries instead of trying to reach for something beyond its grasp at this moment. A neighborhood reorientation is also in line with China's foreign policy shift to neighboring countries.