The growing presence of Chinese students and culture at the University of Idaho will expand opportunities for Moscow.
This year’s enrollment numbers from UI’s International Programs Office revealed a 13 percent increase in international students, with 667 students from 69 countries on campus. Of those 69 countries, China is leading the way.
The office counted 197 students from China at the university this semester. The next largest group is Saudi Arabia with 85 students.
“That’s just where the market is right now,” said Susan Bender, executive director of International Engagement and Programs.
There are more than 190,000 Chinese students studying in the United States, according to a report from the Institute of International Education. Students from China make up 25 percent of total international students in the United States.
Bender said UI’s biggest focus for recruitment is on China and India because they are the biggest markets in the world. The 197 Chinese students at UI contributed an estimated $6 million to Idaho’s economy this year paying for tuition and living expenses.
Currently, Idaho ranks 41st in the nation for the number of international students on campus. Bender said there’s room to improve.
At the beginning of this year Bender and university Provost Doug Baker went to China to visit UI’s recruiting centers and meet with Chinese university officials. Bender learned about the serious need for Chinese students to have opportunities abroad.
“Of the 18 million 18-year-olds in China, 9 million take the national higher education entrance exam with the intention of going on to a university,” she said. “Of that 9 million there’s only space in Chinese universities for 3 million.”
With about 6 million Chinese students getting turned away from Chinese universities, many of them seek education overseas, but until recently those opportunities were limited.
Change in policy
Bender said that until about five years ago, students who wanted to study in the U.S. had to prove they intended to return to their native country after graduation in order to receive a visa.
“In the past, many students who came here really wanted to stay here so the denial rate was extremely high,” Bender said.
“There was an economic shift in China and there are a lot of jobs to return to now. Therefore, they are going home and able to get jobs in China after they complete their degrees.”
Additionally, cultural expectations in China drive them back home.
“Families have one child and that child is expected to support their parents and their grandparents, so you want that child to have the best education possible, and if they don’t get into that top tier, sometimes it’s better to go overseas,” she said.
The U.S. also offers a different type of education than China does, which is attractive to its students, Bender said. With less book-learning and memorization, American universities tend to focus more on critical thinking and creativity. While in China, Bender and Baker spoke with university administrators who were interested in this type of learning.
“There’s recognition that the U.S. is really one of the best in the world at teaching students to be critical thinkers, to be innovative, and to be creative,” she said. “You can speak out against your teacher and that would never happen there.”
Lu Ding is a Chinese international student who is finishing his master’s degree in landscape architecture at UI. Ding has studied in China, Europe and America, and said he has seen many differences in their approach to teaching.
“The general study classes are pretty similar but the professional classes in design are very different,” Ding said. “The way Americans think about design, they use a lot of site background to support their design. That’s really cool and understandable because it’s not only about the beauty, it’s also about the environment.”
Ding works with Stephen Drown, a professor in the College of Art and Architecture. They have traveled to China twice in the past year to improve the relationship between UI and Chinese universities.
A growing population
Ding is also a member of the Chinese Students and Scholars Friendship Association at UI, where he has noticed a lot of growth in the Chinese student population.
“Last year when we celebrated the Chinese New Year there were 60 to 90 Chinese students joining us, but this year there were close to 180 students. It’s a big change,” he said.
Ding attributes the growth to new recruiting offices in Beijing and Shanghai, where Chinese students can become more comfortable with the university before they fly across the world.
Collaboration between Chinese universities and UI is growing, Bender said. About two years ago the university began applying for a Confucius Institute.
“They’re funded by the Chinese government for the purpose of promoting Chinese language and culture on campuses in the U.S. We’re in the final stages of that process,” Bender said.
The institutes exist all around the world, where Chinese professors teach Mandarin and other Chinese programs.
Where jobs will be
Both bringing students to UI and sending students to foreign countries is an important factor for the future of the university and student success, Bender said.
“We’re about global learning and creating global citizens,” she said. “Your best job may not be in the United States in the future, so you need to be prepared for that.”