A recent survey showed that despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, most Chinese students studying overseas or planning to do so remain enthusiastic about pursuing study abroad.
The survey, conducted by New Oriental Education and Technology Group and Consultancy Kantar, found that as high as 91 percent of prospective Chinese overseas students still plan to study abroad, while 92 percent of existing overseas students plan to return to their universities in the near future.
In addition to advanced research standards and promising employment prospects, another reason that most Chinese students have not given up their overseas study plans is that it is an expensive decision and takes years of preparation for foreign-language proficiency and tuition accumulation.
Since its opening up to the outside world, Chinese authorities have been showing support for its citizens to study abroad. Even influenced by the pandemic at present, governments at various levels are also trying their best to facilitate the flow of students. For example, the Shekou Cruise Homeport based in Shenzhen, the only maritime port that offers ferry services between the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong International Airport, recently said that it would operate a daily student-only ferry destined for the Hong Kong airport from Aug. 1 to 31. Such a move aims to meet the sharp demands of Chinese students who plan to return to their overseas schools via Hong Kong.
In addition to safety reasons, friendliness with China is also an important factor for Chinese students to choose their overseas study destinations. For several decades since the 1980s, the United States was the most favored country for Chinese nationals to further their studies. However, the situation changed in 2020. The survey found that the United Kingdom has secured the spot as the most popular destination for Chinese students for two consecutive years, with the U.S. taking second place. This year the U.K. is preferred by 44 percent respondents, while 32 percent of students prefer study in the United States.
The U.S. State Department last year shortened the length of visas issued to Chinese nationals, particularly those involved in STEM subjects. STEM is the acronym used to group together the academic disciplines related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These subjects are regarded as the cornerstone that backs economic and social development in a modern society. Due to the U.S. visa restrictions, China's Ministry of Education warned Chinese students in June 2020 of the risk of pursuing studies in the United States.
It seems that the U.S. administration is further tightening its visa policy this year. More than 500 Chinese students who had received offers to have postgraduate studies as STEM majors were recently denied visas by the U.S. Government, according to media reports last week. It is reported that about 25 percent of them get U.S. scholarships and the universities they plan to join include Harvard, Yale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and many other famous names.
Frankly speaking, groundless cancellation of visas for Chinese students and the Chinese absence from U.S. academic activities are mainly the loss of the United States, not China. Culture, education and other people-to-people exchanges play important roles in underpinning China-U.S. relationships. There are more than 400,000 Chinese students in the U.S. today. Many of them originally regarded the U.S. as an example of the values of "freedom, democracy and fairness." But these appreciative words today are no longer applicable and suitable for the more and more protective U.S.
Moreover, everybody knows that openness, inclusiveness and the immigrant culture helped nurture the United States into a great country during the past centuries. In a highly interconnected world today, can the U.S. isolate itself from others and live with its head in the sand? If the U.S. insists on barring Chinese students, the country's open and inclusive image will be tarnished. For the long term, it will also bring about loss to the superpower because of its inaccurate, incomplete and even biased understanding of China.
(The author is the editor-in-chief of Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)