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As Fewer Chinese Students Study at American Colleges, Will Indian Students Fill the Gap?

As Fewer Chinese Students Study at American Colleges, Will Indian Students Fill the Gap?


Robert Ubell
November 30, 2022
For years, China has been sending the greatest number of international students to the U.S. This year, to many people’s surprise, India took the lead.
In fact, the number of U.S. student visas issued to Indians soared 60 percent from Oct 2021 to July 2022, while Chinese student visas—until now at the top—dipped 30 percent. According to the Bureau of Consular Affairs, Indian student visas this year jumped to nearly 78,000, while Chinese student visas fell to just over 46,000.
Worldwide—in the U.K., Canada, and elsewhere—India has surpassed China as the leading source of foreign students. And Coursera, the world’s biggest commercial online learning platform, reports that learners in India constitute its greatest stream of new foreign students.
Doubtless, the decline in Chinese students is mostly the result of the country’s zero-COVID lockdowns and its contentious confrontations with the West.
The change will have a huge impact on many U.S. colleges. After all, more than three million Chinese students enrolled in US higher ed institutions in the last decade alone. Many of those students, educated in the U.S., returned to China to help build their country’s infrastructure and manufacturing power. As a result, China was transformed from a peasant to a middle-class economy in one turbulent, dynamic century.
“Never in history have so many people made so much economic progress in one or two generations,” comments Kenneth Lieberthal at the Brookings Institution.
Mission accomplished, China may have less need for American technical expertise, and it may feel able to go it alone, with its own expanding higher education system, now at the forefront of many key science and technology measures.
At last month’s twentieth Chinese Communist Party Congress, Premier Xi Jinping stepped back from his earlier ambition to lead “a diversified and stable international economic system.” In his new China-first posture, Xi called for technical self-sufficiency, signaling that Chinese students may do better to stay home, attending universities in Beijing and Shanghai, rather than fly across the globe to Harvard and Stanford.
That also signals that the flood of Chinese students in the U.S. since the turn of this century may be drying up.
“An American degree became a national obsession,” allowing middle-class kids to escape China’s highly competitive college entrance exam and its rigid curriculum, writes Eric Fish in the China Project newsletter.
Even with its decline in visas this year, though, China is still the heavyweight, with the greatest number of international students in American colleges. More than a quarter of a million Chinese are enrolled in U.S. campuses today.
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