As Washington and Beijing work to thaw relations, the future of exchange students between the two superpowers is still in limbo.
There are only around 350 American students currently studying in China, the New York Times reports, compared to about 11,000 in 2019. There are nearly 300,000 Chinese students currently in the U.S., but that number remains much lower than before the pandemic.
Given Chinese officials’ lack of communication with their U.S. counterparts, exchange students could be integral in managing tense relations. Washington wants to grow the number of Americans studying in China to cultivate its “next generation of China experts,” Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to China, told NBC News earlier this year, adding that “you want the two countries’ people to be talking to each other.” However, American students will continue to be deterred from studying in a country they perceive as having “near omnipresent surveillance, deeply limited academic freedom, [and] growing distrust of foreigners,” argues Isaac Stone Fish, whose company quantifies corporate exposure to China.
Despite the drop in numbers since the pandemic, the U.S. continues to remain the most popular country for Chinese students who are disillusioned with their own higher education system and bleak post-graduate job prospects, the South China Morning Post reported in August. Unlike the domestic curriculum marked by “homogenisation and formalism,” as one student said, universities abroad offer a more comprehensive curriculum without China’s grueling application and examination process. Chinese students also believe the U.S. tech sector can offer more stable job opportunities, in a reflection of the “lying flat” phenomenon where the youth in China refuse to work for high-demand, low-paying jobs that underutilize their educational qualifications and skills.
While India has now overtaken China as the top source for international students in the U.S., the “million dollar question” for Indian students and their families is whether Donald Trump will become president again, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported. The U.S. has welcomed the influx of Indian students, hoping they will eventually compensate for the revenue lost from the drop in Chinese student admissions. But given Trump’s past rhetoric against foreign students and his efforts to slash student visas, universities should not “take growth for granted” and be too revenue-dependent on international students, one academic warned.