Nov 19, 2019 08:02 PM

Charts of the Day: Chinese Scholarships for International Students Dwarf Those for Domestic Peers

The first group of overseas students arrived in 1950, one year after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. They were a group of 33 students that came from the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries.

Over the next 30 years, China’s policy towards foreign students was relatively conservative. However, with the reform and opening-up policies implemented in the late 1970s came a slew of policies aimed at encouraging overseas students to study in China.

By 1999, the number of overseas students had reached 44,711. Further expansion of the country’s higher education since then, as well as increasingly open policies allowing foreign students to study in China, have led to another rapid increase in the number of international students.

However, there has been online chatter as to whether overseas students enjoy special treatment — and are not held to the same admissions standards as Chinese students.

Many professors and scholars at colleges and universities in China have written articles pointing out that at present, the assessment methods and standards for international students are relatively lax.

In 2015, Li Haisheng, director of East China Normal University’s Office for Master’s Degree Evaluation and Management, conducted a questionnaire survey of nearly 2,500 college presidents and teachers from 38 universities, including Fudan University, Shanghai Jiaotong University, Beijing Normal University, and Shandong University. The questionnaire found that assessment of prospective overseas graduate students was less stringent than it was for their Chinese counterparts. What little application materials were actually required were simple, there was no unified postgraduate entrance test, and not enough attention was paid to applicants’ academic backgrounds. While domestic students faced selective admissions, universities were attempting to recruit as many foreign students as possible in order to meet enrolment targets.

Currently, there are 243 scholarships for overseas students in China awarded by central, municipal and provincial governments, as well as universities and enterprises. Among them, the “China Government Scholarship” is the only official central government-sponsored scholarship, and covers tuition, accommodation, medical insurance, and a monthly stipend. For domestic students, the only government-sponsored scholarship is the “China National Scholarship.”

The total amount of cash on offer for scholarships for overseas undergraduates amounts to nearly eight times that available to local students, and scholarships for overseas masters and doctoral students are worth nearly three times those available to local students.


According to statistics from China’s Ministry of Education, in 2018, there were about 490,000 foreign students studying in Chinese universities, of which 63,000 were awarded the China Government Scholarship — or 12.8%. The same data from the education ministry shows that each year, more than 27 million Chinese students compete for 50,000 national scholarships each year, a rate of only 0.2%. For Master’s scholarships, the award rate is 1.7%.

However, tuition for international students is higher than for Chinese students. For example, annual tuition for an undergraduate journalism degree at Beijing’s Renmin University for Chinese students is 5,000 yuan. For overseas students, it’s 23,000 yuan.

But according to the Ministry of Education, more and more foreign students are studying at their own expense. It is also difficult to tell whether the funding provided by the scholarships is adequate due to differing amounts, costs covered, and durations of the available scholarships.

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In 1999, students from elsewhere in Asia were the majority at Chinese universities, making up 71% of overseas students. However, that proportion had declined to just 59.9% as of 2018. The fastest-growing source of international students is Africa, jumping from 3.1% 20 years ago to 16.57% in 2018 and eclipsing Europe to rank second.

Many overseas students in China are from developing countries — accounting for 77% of overseas students — whereas students from the U.S., Europe, and other developed regions account for the remaining 23%. In recent years, the number of students from “Belt and Road” countries, such as Thailand, Pakistan, Russia, Indonesia, Laos, and Kazakhstan, has increased significantly. Seven out of the top 10 origin countries are members of the initiative.

Another emerging trend is that fewer students are coming to China for short-term study, and more are opting to undertake full degree programs. According to the Ministry of Education, the number of overseas students studying on a degree program increased from 11,500 in 1999 to 258,000 in 2018.

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Contact Reporter Ren Qiuyu (

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