Why Should Foreigners Go To China For Advanced Studies? An International Student’s Opinion

Each year, many international students come to China to obtain university degrees. In this article, Tausif Ali, a PhD Student at Hohai University, highlights some of the key factors behind his decision to study in China by citing some facts and figures.

China is called the ‘Cradle of Civilization’, and today’s China is the economic wonder of the world. The country is now also becoming a land of vast opportunities for foreigners – especially considering the chance it is giving to international students to pursue advanced studies. China is now the world’s 2nd biggest economy and is spending a lot on education and research. Besides local students, China is also focusing on taking in more international students as a part of its growing cooperation with countries acorss the globe. Since 2007, China has become the sixth biggest destination for international students. 

The Ministry of Education (MOE) of the People’s Republic of China claimed in 2014 that there were more than 377,054 foreign students in the 31 provinces of China, with an increase of 5.77% over the previous year; and in 2015 the number of international students rose again, to 397,635. According to the latest statistics from the Chinese Ministry of Education (MOE) regarding foreign student enrollment, China recruited 442,773 international students in 2016 for an increase of 11.4% over the year before.  Approximately half (47%) of all international students in China are studying towards undergraduate degrees while fifteen percent (15%) are studying towards advanced degrees including Master’s or Doctoral programs. It is likewise noted that around 40% of all the foreign students in China are studying the Chinese language at various levels of proficiency. Each year a large number of international students are applying to various Chinese universities. 

The number of applicants has increased notably over the past few decades. Several key factors account for the rise, above all China’s offer of a cost-effective education with international standards, low living costs with high living standards, the internationalization of Chinese universities, scholarship opportunities, the recent improvement in Chinese universities’ rankings, and top class research facilities with high-quality research output.

Cost-effective education

Broadly speaking, when we think about education, an important question arises, ‘What is the full monetary value of the education?’  China is a country where tuition fees for international students are relatively less than those in the UK, the USA, or other Asian countries like Japan and South Korea. Most Chinese universities do not charge application fees, although a few top-ranked Chinese universities do charge application fees, which range from 300 to 800 RMB (Approx 47.03USD-125.40 USD) while the estimated average tuition fee in China ranges from 20,000 RMB to 60,000RMB per year (Approx 3146.4USD-9439.4 USD). Universities in the UK generally charge application fees ranging from 150 to 250 Pounds (approx 227.7USD-379.5 USD) and the tuition fees for all international students are at least 15,000 Pounds (approx 22770.8 USD) per year. The average application fee in the USA is about 40 USD. But at the same time, some universities are planning to withdraw the application fee to ease the burden on potential students. The average tuition fees for international students in the USA are around $60,000 per year.

Low living cost

It is crystal clear that living costs in China are low compared to that of  Western countries or most other Asian countries.  Living costs in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, or Shenzhen would be around RMB 1000-2000 per month (approx USD 157 – USD 314). Other cities would be roughly 500-1000 RMB per month (approx 79-157 USD). The living cost in Shanghai is the highest among Chinese metropolises. The expenses of living generally depend on lifestyle. The cost of food in China is cheaper and is affordable compared to many other countries. Moreover, almost all Chinese universities have an adequate number of on-camnpus canteens, and they maintain the quality and standard of food efficiently. For a single person, 30-40 RMB per day (approx. 4.7-6.2 USD) is enough if he/she takes his/her meal at a canteen. This means on average 1000RMB (approx. 156.75USD) will need to be spent on food each month. But if a student buys vegetables, rice, flour, meat/fish from a kitchen market and cooks it himself/herself, the cost will be materially lower – almost 400-500RMB per month (approx. 62.70USD-78.38USD).  Though some universities’ international dorms lack cooking facilities, meals obtained at a canteen will still be cost-effective, as I have mentioned earlier.

The living costs mentioned above do not include dormitory fees, which can vary from university to university. If students wish, they can also live off campus. Cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen have relatively high rents. But in other cities, it is possible to rent a house at a comparatively low price. If several students share a house or a room, then the rent can be trimmed down drastically. For example, we can mention a feature at Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province. There a house can be rented for 1000-1500 RMB per month (approx. 156.75-235.13USD) including other facilities. Hence, if the room is shared with other students the occupancy cost will be even more attractive. This example is almost the same for all other cities in China, except for a few major ones. 

In the city of London, the living cost could be about 1000-2000 pounds per month (approx. 1526-3053.90 USD). The costs in other British cities are less – for example, Edinburgh. The cost of living in Edinburgh can be researched on the University of Edinburgh’s website, where living costs vary from 605-1230 pounds per month (923.84-1878.21USD). These costs include accommodation, food, and other expenses, where accommodation costs about 360-700 pounds (approx. 1070.04 USD). Estimated living costs in the USA would be around 10,000-20, 000 USD per year, but the cost varies greatly from place to place. In addition, 50% of the living cost would be for housing. 

In China, in addition to the low cost of living, international students benefit from a secure and satisfactory environment that suits students from outside of China well.

The internationalization of Chinese universities

According to the Chinese Ministry of Education (MOE), since 2009 English language instruction has become available in more than 250 programs at 38 universities. Over the last few years, the number of courses taught in English have increased rapidly. Chinese universities are offering Bachelors’, Masters’ and PhD programs with English as the language of instruction. In addition to Chinese professors, some renowned and highly-rated foreign teachers are also being appointed.  Prominent scholars often come to Chinese universities to deliver their speeches in seminars and sometimes take classes.

Scholarship opportunities

Chinese universities offer various kinds of scholarships. Principally, they can be placed into three categories: Chinese Government Scholarships (CSC), Provincial Scholarships, and University Scholarships. Apart from these, multiple Chinese universities offer various kinds of scholarships. The CSC Scholarship is the most popular and best regarded. Provincial Scholarships vary from province to province. University Scholarships depend on each university’s policy. Besides these three categories, there are also lots of different kinds of scholarships. Some are more prestigious than the CSC. For example, TWAS Fellowship, which offers fellowships only for PhD students, is considered the best in China as well as in the whole of Asia for international PhD students.

Ranking and class of Chinese universities

Chinese universities are improving their position gradually in the international rankings. The QS World University Ranking and Times Higher Education Ranking are now focusing on the flourishing of Chinese universities. Apart from that, C9 league universities (9 elite universities in China) are considered the country’s top class universities, where extensive research projects are undertaken. These nine universities enroll 3% of the country’s researchers and receive 10% of national research disbursements while generating 20% of all academic publications and 30% of total citations. Besides these, Project 985 and Project 211 are remarkable initiatives of the Chinese Government. Project 985 focuses on building new research centers, upgrading facilities, arranging international conferences, attracting world-renowned faculty and visiting scholars, and helping Chinese faculty members to attend conferences overseas. There are now 39 universities operating under Project 985, which also provides the necessary funding for those universities. Project 985 listed universities are considered country’s top institutions.

Project 211 aims at strengthening about 100 institutions of higher education and key disciplines as a national priority for the 21st century. The universities under Project 211 take on the responsibility of preparing four-fifths of doctoral students, two-thirds of graduate students, half of the students from abroad, and one-third of undergraduates. They offer 85% of the state’s key subjects, hold 96% of the state’s key laboratories, and utilize 70% of scientific research funding. These universities are considered as well known universities.

It should be understood that C9 category universities are operating under both Project 985 and Project 211. In August 2015 a new policy called “World Class 2.0” (also referred to as the “Double World Class Project”) was launched by the government of China. It aims to strengthen the research performance of China’s nine top-ranked universities and achieve the goal of having six of those universities ranked within the world’s top 15 universities by 2030.

Laboratory facilities

There are different sorts of laboratories in Chinese universities. Some laboratories are funded by the universities, and some from different local and multinational companies, etc. But the premier labs in the state are “State Key Laboratories”. These laboratories currently receive funding and administrative support from the central government of the People’s Republic of China. Postgraduate students from various countries can have plenty of opportunities to work in these laboratories to do important research and contribute to their respective countries.

Research output

Each year, the Nature Index publishes a ranking based on the count of high-quality research papers. According to the Nature Index 2016 database, China ranks second out of Fifty (50) countries. The ranking reflects China’s effort to accomplish important research. The Chinese government has prioritized the use of innovation for sustainable economic development. As a portion of this policy the government has focused on the 13th Science, Technology, and Innovation Five Year New Plan, which was proclaimed in August of 2016. The plan sets goals for the country to reach by 2020. These goals include increasing China’s investment in research and development spending as a percentage of GNP from 2.1 to 2.5%, increasing public science literacy, and hiking up the share of science professionals in the workforce to 10%. Increasing the impact of research as measured by citations of academic publications is another goal of the regime. They aim to increase China’s worldwide ranking for citations of scientific papers to second in the world by 2020 where presently it’s in fourth place.


Although there are some constraints for international students in China, at the same time, the Government of China and Chinese university authorities are taking prompt action to overcome the remaining barriers. Day by day, China is becoming an influential country, both through its robust economy and its political role. Apart from global hegemony, it is continuing its emphasis on sustainable development. It is expected that the Chinese Government will take more pragmatic steps to improve the quality of education in China and will ultimately take a place in the highest ranks of top-notch research. 

The day will come when China will be the top destination for foreign students, just as the Western countries are today. 

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