By Greg Hugh
A recent Bloomberg column suggests that decreased American study abroad in China, from 15,000 a decade ago to just 211 in 2021-2022, weakens the U.S.’s ability to engage with a major competitor, attributing the decline to COVID-19 travel restrictions and tense Beijing-West relations. In contrast, 289,000 Chinese students in U.S. colleges highlight the imbalance and the need for more U.S. experts on China for future competence.
The U.S. needs more Chinese experts to compete with it
A Bloomberg op-ed this week argues that the United States should study more in China or undermine its ability to deal with its main rivals. China used to be the most popular study destination for American students outside of Europe. However, in the 2021-2022 school year, only 211 Americans studied in China, a number that is far from the nearly 15,000 a decade ago. In addition to travel restrictions during the pandemic, the reason for this is also related to the tension between Beijing and the West. Conversely, more than 289,000 Chinese enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities last year, a figure about 15 percent less than before the pandemic, but Chinese students are still the largest group of international students in the United States. The people concerned are worried that without more experts who have a good understanding of Chinese culture, language, society, and people, the ability of the United States to deal with China will gradually weaken in the future. Therefore, opening up more avenues for Americans to travel and study in China would be a smart investment in American security.
The number of US students studying in China has changed significantly in recent years due to various factors, so it’s important to specify which timeframe you’re interested in:
Recent Data (2022-2023):
211 US students studied in mainland China during the 2021-2022 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE). This represents a dramatic decrease from previous years, with over 11,000 American students in China from 2018 to 2019.
Some sources, like US ambassador to China Nicholas Burns, mentioned 350 Americans studying in China during the same period. This might include students in Hong Kong and Taiwan, not just mainland China.
Possible explanations for the decline:
COVID-19 restrictions: Stringent travel restrictions and lockdowns in China severely impacted international student mobility.
Geopolitical tensions: Rising tensions between the US and China could deter some students from studying there.
Looking further back:
The number of US students in China peaked around 2015-2016, with estimates ranging from 15,000 to 30,000.
It’s important to consider the type of program when looking at student numbers. Many short-term programs may not be captured in official statistics.
The number of US students in China remains significantly lower than the number of Chinese students studying in the US (nearly 300,000 in 2022-2023).