Rising Student Interest Propels Growth in U.S.-China Educational Exchange

Study abroad to China has become increasingly popular among American students, increasing by over 500 percent in the last decade, with 8,830 Americans studying in China in 2005-06 up from 1,396.

According to a new briefing report by the Institute of International Education (IIE), China is now the seventh most popular destination for American students, attracting 4 percent of all study abroad students, compared to 1.6 percent a decade ago. In 2006, China was the eighth most popular destination for American students, attracting nearly 6,400.

While the volume of students going to China is relatively low when compared to other popular destinations such as Spain, Italy and Great Britain, the rate at which is has increased is staggering, IIE officials report.

“It is not just the athletes who are headed to China this summer,” says Dr. Allan E. Goodman, President and CEO of the IIE. “This is a time of unprecedented international interest in China, and we expect to see continued growth in the number of career-minded American students going there to study.”

Exchange activities between China and the United States resumed in 1979 after grinding to halt at the height of the Cold War. As China began its period of economic reform and opening up, American students were welcomed to study in China. China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001 and the parallel liberalization of its education sector, along with increasing awareness among U.S students of China’s increasing political and economic clout, contributed to the increase in the country’s popularity among students, the report states.

Chinese students have also become a more common sight on U.S. college campuses.

There were 67,723 students from China studying in the United States in 2006/07, up 8.2 percent from the previous year, according to IIE’s 2007 Open Doors on International Educational Exchange.

There has been similar growth in scholarly exchange. With 20,149 Chinese scholars in the United States in 2006/07, China sends more than twice as many scholars to the United States as does Korea, the second largest sender. The bi-national Fulbright Scholar Program paralleled this growth, going from having 20 Chinese scholars in the United States and 20 U.S. scholars in China 1999/99 to 46 Chinese scholars in the United States and 41 U.S. scholars in China in 2007/08.

“The growing importance of China and the rising cost of studying in Europe seem to be attracting more students to China and other ‘non-traditional’ destinations such as Brazil and India,” Goodman says.

The number of Chinese scholars teaching and doing research at U.S. colleges and universities has followed a similar general upward trend in recent years. According to the report, China is the largest sending country for foreign scholars. With 20,149 Chinese scholars in the United States in 2006/07, China sends more than twice as many to the United States as Korea, the second largest sending country.

“Academic exchanges between the U.S. and China expand opportunities for U.S. students and faculty members to experience first-hand China’s growing impact in many areas of global significance,” says Peggy Blumenthal, executive vice president of IIE.

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