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China becomes ever more plausible as a study destination

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China has one of the biggest education systems in the world and as the country’s economic might strengthens so does its influence on global education.

More students are enrolling in the country’s 2852 higher education institutions than ever before, and this includes students from abroad.

World Education News & Reviews described the dramatic increase in the intake of higher education students, in the last quarter century, as a “massification” of the country’s university system.

The percentage of 18 to 22 year olds in higher education has increased from 4% in 1990 to 6.5% in 1999 to 37.5% in 2014.

Last year seven million graduates flooded China’s labour market and education authorities are recognising the need to nurture and grow vocational training.

As the country’s population climbs towards 1.4 billion and its middle class expands, more Chinese students are opting to study abroad than any other country in the world.

While this may be the case, China’s global integration has led to its universities opening their doors to an increasing number of international students.

According to some estimates, students from Africa account for more than one in 10 students studying abroad. Previously their universities of choice were in the UK, France and the US.

However, in recent years trends have changed.

As Sino-African ties strengthen and China is increasingly seen as the continent’s lodestar, more students apply to study in the East.

According to China’s Ministry of Education, the growth rate of international students has seen a 35% annual rise on average.

Between 2005 and 2015, the department reported the number of African students in China rose from 2 757 to almost 50 000.

The number of South Africans studying there are small, only 2299 of the student population with 146 awarded scholarships. One of the spin-offs of studying in China is learning Chinese languages, and about its people and the culture.

Since China is South Africa’s biggest trade partner and more Chinese-run companies are opening their doors in the country, an academic certificate from China may work to the advantage of the possible job-seeker.

Education expert Ye Liu argues that the emerging economic giant is not only an increasingly important geopolitical, but also a cultural, force in the world.

“If this is to be the Asian Century”, Liu wrote in an article for The Conversation, “global interest in China’s cultural traditions and institutions will undoubtedly increase.”

The Chinese view education as an import tool to promote its so-called “soft power”.

Across Africa there are a growing number of Confucius Institutes which seek to teach Chinese language skills and culture.

These Chinese government-supported institutes run in partnership with local colleges or universities around the world.

South Africa has 10 Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classes, the most in Africa, which hosts a total of 48 Confucius Institutes and 27 Confucius Classes.

South Africa has also added Chinese languages to its school curriculum, currently conducting trials at 11 primary and secondary schools.

Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) has its own barometer which tracks performance at tertiary institutions in the five countries.

In the latest results of the QS University Rankings: Brics, Chinese universities make up more than a third of the 250 institutions featured. The Brics ranking aims to showcase the best universities in the emerging economies.

China has been a strong contender, a reflection of the country’s investment in higher education and research, boasting 86 entrants and has consistently dominated the top five positions.

As the embers burn from South Africa’s bruising university fee protests, studying in China may well be a plausible option.