International students should find increasing levels of investment in tertiary education to be a compelling reason to study in China.
In 2012, China reached its target of spending 4% of GDP on education. And it is currently investing US$250 billion a year in “human capital” (source: New York Times), which includes the subsidy of education for young people moving from rural to urban areas, in an effort to lessen the gap between the educated elite and rural laborers.
The number of colleges and universities in China has doubled in the last decade to 2,409. The country’s current five-year plan, which extends to 2015, focuses on many development priorities that are appealing to western college graduates. And many Chinese universities are focusing on developing technologies that increase competitiveness with the West.
Key initiatives include Project 211, which aims to bring 100 Chinese universities up to a world-class standard, and Project 985, which aims to create an even more elite group of universities. Project 985 has resulted in the creation of the C9 league, which has ambitions of becoming something like the US Ivy League.
With the growing global status of China, within trade, tourism and education, study in China is seeing huge increases in popularity. According to Statista.com, 397,635 international students were studying in China in 2015, while more than nine million students took the national university entrance examination every year, making China home to one of the largest education systems in the world.
By 2020, the Chinese government aims to have 500,000 international students enrolled in Chinese higher education. To support this goal, a growing number of international scholarships are being offered across the country. For a selection of these scholarship opportunities, see this article.
Tsinghua University is located in the Chinese capital of Beijing and is a member of the elite C9 League. Established in 1911, Tsinghua University now has a community of just over 46,000 students, including nearly 2,700 from outside of China.
Also ranked in 33 out of 42 subjects in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2016, Tsinghua University performs best for architecture, civil engineering and materials sciences – in the global top 10 for these subjects.
A consistent contender among the top universities in China, Peking University is a prestigious research university belonging to China’s C9 League. Established in 1898 and also located in Beijing, Peking University admits a high number of international students every year and has maintained a partnership with Germany’s Freie Universität Berlin since 1981. As well as its leading academic offering, Peking University’s campus grounds are loved for their traditional Chinese architecture.
Peking University ranks among the world’s best in 35 of the 42 subjects covered by the subject rankings, achieving top 50 positions in 26 of these, including modern languages, linguistics, chemistry, dentistry, mineral and mining engineering and social policy and administration.
China’s third best university according to the latest rankings, Fudan University is spread across four campuses in Shanghai, one of the nation’s largest hubs of finance and trade. Another member of the C9 league, Fudan University has a current enrollment of just under 32,000 students and is known as one of China’s most selective schools.
Featured among the world’s top universities in 26 subjects in 2016, Fudan University performs best for modern languages, chemistry, materials sciences and politics, for which it ranks among the top 50 worldwide.
Ready to study in China? Find out more about life in some of China’s major student cities…
Beijing is one of the most populous cities in the world (home to over 21 million people). With plenty of nightspots and cultural attractions to choose from, international students certainly won’t have any difficulty finding opportunities to become immersed in local culture, while practicing their Mandarin. For those not fluent in the language, many signs are written in English.
Out of the 33 Chinese institutions featured in the QS World University Rankings 2016-2017, nine are based in Beijing, the Chinese capital. The highest ranked of universities in Beijing is Tsinghua University (ranked joint 24th in the world) which offers a selection of master’s programs in English, while Peking University is second (39th in the world) with current aims to increase programs taught in English, in order to attract more international students. The university is also accepting more students through the Confucius Institute Scholarship Program, which aims to promote Chinese language and culture around the world.
Although Shanghai is considered the most expensive Chinese city to live in (source), this also means that it’s where many of the jobs are, which may make it attractive for those hoping to find a part-time job during studies, or full time employment after graduation.
Homesick international students in Shanghai might want to visit one of the “copycat” towns in the suburbs around the city, for a fix of their own culture. These include Spanish, British, Scandinavian, Canadian, Dutch, Italian and German settlements. Perhaps the best known is Thames Town, an eerily quiet English replica complete with cobbled streets, old English pubs and a statue of Sir Winston Churchill… all labeled with Chinese signs.
The three top universities in Shanghai to feature in this year’s rankings are: Fudan University (ranked 43rd); Shanghai Jiao Tong University (61st); and Tongji University (joint 315th). The first two are in the C9 league of elite universities, indicating that China’s ambition of creating something like a US Ivy League is showing results.
Xi'an is one of the oldest cities in China, with enough precious relics and historical sites to keep history devotees happy throughout their studies. One of the most famous and impressive sites is the Terracotta Warriors, which were made to be buried with the First Emperor Qin Shihuang, to serve him in the afterlife.
Universities in Xi’an include Xi'an Jiaotong University, which has benefitted from both Project 211 and Project 985, with a resultant strong presence in the QS rankings. There’s also Northwestern Polytechnical University, Northwest University, and Xian International Studies University, all of which have focused on establishing international relations with other institutions worldwide.
The hometown of Confucius now has a population of 91 million, so there is always plenty going on. This includes festivals throughout the year, opera and arts and crafts. The Shandong style of cuisine is also generally accepted as the most popular in China. Universities in Shandong include Shandong University, one of the largest in China, which has also benefitted from Project 211. Others are the Ocean University of China, Shandong Jianzhu University, Shandong Normal University and the University of Jinan.
Inevitably for an economy that is growing so quickly, the cost of living in China is not quite as cheap as it used to be. But tuition fees are relatively low, around US$3,500 per year in Beijing. And the cost of living in Shanghai, China’s most expensive city, is estimated to be roughly half that of New York (source: Numbeo).
With accommodation costing between US$200 and US$300 per month (depending on the city), and transport a handful of small change, you’ll be spared the financial turmoil of students elsewhere.
To apply for a place at a university in China, international students can use the centralized CUCAS (China’s University and College Admission System) website, or apply directly to the university. International students can also choose to apply for a Chinese Government Scholarship Program, and will find information about this on the CUCAS site.
After being offered a place at a Chinese university, you’ll need to head to your local Chinese embassy, and apply for a visa appropriate for your length of stay. Chinese visa requirements state that for a stay of six months or more, you will need a study visa (or X-visa). For less than six months, a business visa (or F-visa) will do. If you do not receive your admission package in time, you may be able to apply for a tourist visa (L-visa) and convert this to a student visa when you arrive.
Major languages in China include Cantonese, Hokkien and of course Mandarin (also known as Putonghua) – which is the world’s largest language by number of speakers. Given China’s growing stature on the world stage, it is obviously going to enhance your employability if you know your way around Mandarin.
However, don’t worry if it seems like a tall order to study in a language that can seem completely opaque for the non-speaker. Many universities in China offer courses taught in English, and you’ll also find that many Chinese people speak English. If you choose to study in China in English, you won’t need to prove your fluency in Mandarin, but you may need to submit the results of a test of English proficiency such as IELTS or TOEFL.
If you decide that maybe you want to tackle a course in the native tongue, you will need to provide adequate Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK – Chinese proficiency test) results. You will usually need to reach level 3-8 (there are a total of 11), depending on your university and course. There are test centers around the world, so you shouldn’t have to travel too far. And there’s always the option of doing an intensive language course in China, which will also help you to get to grips with the country itself.