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Appeal of overseas studies grows

Since the first group of 30 Chinese schoolboys traveled to the United States in 1872 to study science and technology, and learn about life in America, a steady stream of youngsters has headed overseas in search of a broader education.


According to figures from the Ministry of Education, between 1978, when the country launched its policy of reform and opening up, and the end of last year, more than 1.2 million Chinese students studied abroad, of whom 319,700 later returned home.


Last year alone, almost 145,000 youngsters furthered their education on foreign soil, of whom 44,000 returned home, 5 percent more than in 2006, the ministry said.


Reflecting the growing demand for foreign study placements, the China Education Association for International Exchange will this weekend host its ninth annual China International Education Expo.


Held at the China World Trade Center in Beijing, the event is designed to promote student exchanges and encourage cooperation between seats of learning around the world, its organizers told China Daily yesterday.



Wu Zaofeng, the association's deputy secretary-general, said: "It's clear that both the numbers of students going abroad to study and those returning is on the rise.


"Chinese families are spending more and more on the education of their children, and that's why an increasing number of overseas universities are showing an interest in our students and trying to tap into the market.


"In order to attract our best students, these universities have also boosted the quality of their education," he said.


Launched in 2000, the expo provides an opportunity for overseas schools to boost their exposure in China, Wu said.


The event is sponsored by several Chinese and foreign government departments and private organizations, including the cultural and education section of the British embassy in Beijing, the German Academic Exchange Service, IDP Australia, CampusFrance, the Spanish embassy in Beijing, Nuffic (the Netherlands organization for cooperation in higher education), New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, and the Japan Student Services Association.


Some 35,000 visitors are expected to attend this year's event, as well as representatives from more than 600 colleges and universities from 30 countries, Wu said.


According to the Ministry of Education, Chinese students are currently studying in more than 100 countries. The top three destinations are the US, Japan and the UK, each hosting more than 50,000 scholars.


Zhang Xiuqin, director of the ministry's international exchange department, said yesterday: "Increasing the number of people studying abroad was one of the first steps taken in the reform and opening up drive, and that has greatly enhanced the country's economic development and diplomatic relations.


"The country views foreign study as a top development strategy and welcomes students back to use their knowledge to help build a better country."


In 1978, the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping was quoted as saying to an education official: "I support sending more students abroad to study; not a dozen more, but thousands, tens of thousands more."


That year, 860 government-funded youngsters traveled abroad to study, and the number has risen steadily since.


Li Zejian, 72, a professor at the thoracic surgery department of Peking Union Medical College, was one of the early beneficiaries of the overseas study campaign.


Between 1980 and 1983, Li completed his postdoctoral research on thoracic surgery at Loma Linda University in California, and later became the first Chinese registered thoracic surgeon in the US.


"My time in the US taught me not only advanced scientific research methods, but also gave me vital practical training," Li said.


"I also traveled as much as I could to broaden my cultural horizons, and that enhanced my understanding of my home country. By the time I was due to return home, I had made many new friends," Li said.


In 1993 - by then one of the leading thoracic surgeons in China - Li was made a doctoral advisor at his university.


According to figures from the Ministry of Education, more than 62 percent of doctoral advisors, 77 percent of university presidents and 80 percent of members of China's academies of science and engineering have studied abroad.


Others with experience of foreign study have gone on to become leading figures in science, industry and politics.


Wan Gang, who was last year appointed minister of science and technology, is one of them.


After earning a doctorate in engineering at the Technical University of Clausthal-Zellerfeld in Germany, he worked for German car manufacturer Audi for 10 years. In 2000, he returned to his hometown of Shanghai and was later appointed president of Tongji University.


According to the Ministry of Education, of all the students that studied abroad last year, about 90 percent paid their own way. More than 8,800 students were funded by the government, up 59 percent on 2006.


Liu Jiamou, a student in his late 20s, is currently studying for a PhD in computer science in New Zealand.


He said he had recently secured a job with computer giant Microsoft, which he will take up on his return to Beijing in the next few months.


Yu Minhong, chairman of English-language training company Beijing New Oriental Group, said yesterday: "China's domestic business environment has significantly improved and more students would like to come back.


"In 1997, when I asked Chinese students at US universities 'Do you want to return home to work after graduation?' less than a third raised their hands," Yu said.


Last year, when he asked the same question at a Harvard Business School lecture, the "yes" response was 100 percent, he said.





(Source from China Daily)