How Western universities are changing to meet the needs of their many Chinese students

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This story is part of our ongoing series on how China is reshaping our world.

In 1978, a delegation from the People’s Republic of China negotiated with the US government over 13 days to send Chinese students to American universities. The two countries had just announced they were normalizing diplomatic relations. The US eventually agreed to accept 500 students from China by 1979.

Today, there are over 360,000 students from mainland China in the US, making up a third of all international students. Unlike those Chinese students from the 1970s, the majority of Chinese students today are self-funded, with limited access to financial aid and scholarships. In 2017, Chinese international students contributed about $14 billion to the US economy.

The same thing is happening In Australia, the UK and Canada, where students from China also make up a significant portion of their international student populations. According to the Ministry of Education in China, 519,400 students studied abroad in 2018 (link in Chinese), an 8% increase from the year before. This happened because of two converging global trends.

The first is pretty straightforward: China now has a burgeoning middle class, who have the means and the desire to secure the best education they can for their children. The other impetus is the universities themselves, who are pursuing international students as a source of revenue.

These “pull” and “push” factors together make Chinese students the largest group of international students from a single country ever. In episode four of our video series Because China—we go to America’s heartland, the state of Illinois, to explore how one university is adapting.