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Outbound growth among Chinese students slows as returnee numbers rise

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According to the most recent report from the Ministry of Education, more than half a million Chinese students studied abroad last year, but growth in outbound student numbers have steadily diminished.

The annual Blue Book report has also revealed that the number of Chinese study abroad students returning home upon completion of their studies is firmly on the rise.

The sum of outbound Chinese students swelled to 523,700 in 2015, according to recent figures, bringing the region’s total number of students studying overseas since China’s 1978 economic reform to more than four billion.

But experts point out that the annual increase of 13.9 percent is considerably lower than the average 19.1 percent average annual growth over the past four decades, despite being higher than the 11 percent increase seen in 2014.

Curbed economic prosperity, changes to the agency setting, improved domestic offerings in education and an increasingly competitive, global jobs market “makes it tempting to predict market contradiction”, but regardless of this, overseas study “continues to be an attractive option”, Kim Morisson, CEO of Beijing-based market entry and intelligence company, Grok Global, told The PIE News.

“A cooling economy in China may even strengthen the attraction for foreign study as families seek to ensure their child will be able to compete in an already competitive labour market, and as families seek to create options for immigration in the future,” she adds.

Morisson also notes that study abroad programmes can seem an attractive option for students who failed to meet the academic requirements for admission to China’s leading universities.

According to the report, around 409,100 students, approximately one in five, Chinese study abroad students had returned to their home country by the end of 2015.

The report highlights that the average age of Chinese returnees in 2015 was 27 years old, and that 60 percent were female.

A survey of 25,000 new returnees, or ‘sea turtles’ as they are commonly known, revealed the most popular study abroad locations to be the UK, U.S., Australia, South Korea and Japan.

But the popularity of each study destination was apparently dependent on the level of study: at 29 percent, the U.S. attracted the highest number of doctoral level students, followed by Japan with 12.9 percent and the UK with 10 percent; but 21.3 percent of returning undergraduate students preferred to pursue their studies in South Korea, followed by the UK with 10.6 percent, and the U.S. with 9.6 percent.

Generally, China’s returning students spent just under two years overseas.

In terms of graduate destinations, 30 percent of surveyed returnees aspired to work within the financial sector; 9.9 percent reported wanting to work in education; 7.8 percent in culture; and 6.7 percent in software and IT services.

Almost 50 percent hope to pursue a career in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, though this figure has dropped eight percent on those from the previous year. Twenty-nine percent of respondents dreamt of working for a multinational company; 20 percent within state-owned businesses; and 17 percent in private companies.

“A foreign degree and, especially, foreign work experience remain excellent job credentials in China, but they are no longer an automatic guarantee of a great job,” Morisson concludes.

“A very important competitive differentiation for institutions is what they actually do to help prepare international students for their career, how they help their graduates secure jobs both onshore and in their home country, and how well they can measure and market that aspect of their value proposition to the Chinese audience.”

Additional reporting by The PIE News.

Image via Pixabay.

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