Fall in Chinese graduates enrolling in US

Patti Waldmeir in Shanghai
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The number of Chinese students enrolling in US graduate schools fell for the first time in at least a decade, according to a report from the US Council of Graduate Schools published on Wednesday.

The 1 percent drop in first-time enrollments of graduate students from China in 2014 "affects a relatively large number of students since Chinese students constitute 33 percent of total enrollmentof international graduate students in the US", the council said.

The decline was offset by a large jump in first-time enrollments of students from India, which rose 27 percent in 2014 on top of a 40 per cent rise in 2013. First-time enrollment of students from Brazil increased 91 per cent this year after a 17 percent increase in 2013, the report said. Enrollment from South Korea and Taiwan declined 7 percent and 8 percent respectively in 2014.

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Overall, first-time enrollments of international graduate students rose 8 per cent between 2013 and 2014, and total graduate enrollment rose by the same percentage.

Chinese education experts said the decline in Chinese enrollments, the first since the council began surveying international student numbers in 2004, may reflect the impact of China's anti-corruption campaign, which has hit the personal wealth of government officials who previously used ill-gotten gains to finance overseas education.

Employment trends in China are also changing, with overseas graduates increasingly struggling to gain jobs that repay the substantial investment of a foreign education, recruitment experts say.

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Beijing has been investing heavily in improving domestic graduate schools in recent years, which may also be keeping more students at home, according to education experts.

However, Xiong Bingqi, vice-president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing, said the decline was the result of global graduate school trends.

"The main reason why fewer Chinese students are enrolled by American universities is the rising threshold for applications and the fact that there are more opportunities offered from other countries such as Australia, and in Europe," he said. "Scholarships have always been a big issue for postgraduate students but now American schools are cutting scholarships. If schools in other countries offer big scholarships, it would affect the students' interest in going to the US."

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Chinese students have been a big driver of growth for US graduate schools in recent years. Last year that growth slowed to 5 percent after several years of double-digit rises.

Figures for overseas undergraduate students in US are due out next week from the US Institute of International Education.

The US Council of Graduate Schools said institutions representing about two-thirds of graduate degrees awarded to foreign students responded to its survey.

"I know some of my classmates in masters programs cannot find suitable jobs when they graduate from a two-year course here and they have to go back home," state news agency Xinhua recently quoted one mainland student in the US as saying. "But at the same time, Chinese postgraduate education is also improving and postgraduate studies in Europe are also good. They have more choices."