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31 May, 2013

Chinese Teenagers Rush for Overseas Education

By Chen Boyuan (China.org.cn)

May 31, 2013 (Xinhua) – China is experiencing a new craze for overseas education, featuring the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand as the top options.

Students born in the 1990s and 2000s are the main participants in this current trend, opting for countries such as the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore to obtain a bachelor’s degree or above.

Three earlier rushes

In China, studying abroad used to be exclusively available to the privileged only. Between the late 1970s and early 1980s, China witnessed its first rush of students moving abroad for study, consisting mostly of government-sponsored visiting scholars and a few self-funded students.

The second rush came half a decade later, when a master’s degree or a Ph.D. from world renowned institutes became the primary goal for Chinese students. These people, the first batch of foreign degree holders since China’s Reform and Opening-up took off, enjoyed exclusive treatment — such as a high income and high social status — upon their return home.

Under this influence, the younger generation took an earlier step, hoping to obtain a foreign bachelor’s degree as well. Unlike their predecessors, most of them went abroad to escape China’s difficult college entrance exam. They were generally average students in China, but grew up in wealthy families. Getting enrolled abroad was not difficult for them, but getting a job afterwards proved to be.

New Oriental, China’s largest provider of private educational services, and consulting firm iResearch in April of this year jointly launched the “White Book of China’s Study Abroad 2013,” which has found the number of Chinese students studying abroad increased by 21.8 percent year-on-year, accounting for 14 percent of such a population globally.

The report also says the number of Chinese senior high school students studying in U.S. private schools has multiplied by a stunning 100 times during the 2010-2011 academic year compared to the number five years earlier.

New Oriental has followed the trend to establish a U.S. Middle School Department in 2011. Ms. Lu Wei, who heads the section, told China Weekly magazine that in 2012, some 23,795 Chinese middle school students studied in the U.S., mostly on F1-type visas, according to FBI statistics. But in 2008, this figure stood at a mere 4,508, she said.

Reasons to study abroad

During the two years of working in her present job, Ms. Lu has met various teenage Chinese students and their parents, who listed all sorts of reasons that the children had to be sent abroad.

“Too tiresome” is the complaint Lu has heard the most often. She has heard about primary school students who had to stay up till midnight to finish their homework, merely consisting of repeated copying.

Even worse, Chinese students are often under pressure to pay to attend private tutorials from their own teachers or risk not having access to the knowledge their teachers purposefully conceal in classes.

One mother told Lu that the current education system in China would “kill her boy,” noting her sceptical son habitually loves directly questioning teachers in class, an act traditionally considered improper and disrespectful to teachers.

“For example, the teacher would say ‘science and technology are the primary productivity,’ but my son would argue that “science brings about pollution, too.’ Teachers later just ignored my child,” she said.

She initially planned to put up with how things stood and came close to spending three million yuan (US$483.87 thousand) on a new house near the boy’s school. Yet the mother soon sobered up and realized the same amount of money could move her son abroad to receive a better education.

The irrational hukou (i.e. household registration) system is another major factor driving young students overseas.

A self-professed “helpless mother” said she and her husband both worked in multinational companies in Beijing. They both make good money, but neither of them has a Beijing hukou, nor does their daughter. Under the present policy, the 16-year-old will have to go back to the parents’ hometown to take her college entrance exam.

The parents could not afford to leave Beijing to accompany their daughter during her final year in high school, nor do they think the girl could adapt to a new curriculum even if they do go back. As they saw no other way out, the parents intended to send the girl overseas.

A better environment, humanity and food safety are also among the main reasons why Chinese parents rush to send their children abroad.

New restrictions

China’s educational authorities did not fail to notice more and more minors leaving the country in favor of overseas schooling. A Ministry of Education’s draft regulation dated October of last year has clearly stated that “overseas education agents can only provide services to those who have finished their compulsory education.”

Once the regulation takes effect, all primary and junior middle school students in China can no longer pursue studies abroad via education agents. But education insiders have noticed that the Education Ministry has kept withdrawing its baseline in the past decade.

In regards to the new regulation, education agents have remained indifferent since students who plan to go overseas at a younger age are either from wealthy or prominent families. They can bypass the aforementioned education agents and land overseas by means of capital and technology emigration.

Nonetheless, even education agents do not support primary and junior middle school students going abroad. New Oriental has found some ten percent of such students have social difficulties while living in foreign countries.

A text going around among parents who plan to send their children abroad reads:

“I don’t expect my children to attend renowned universities. I just expect they can live like us — going to school by ourselves, showing no fear when meeting strangers, no need to dodge cars because they dodge us, no apple-polishing to teachers, having a world with a blue sky, white clouds, clean air and safe food. That’s all.”

But these abovementioned seemingly simple demands have become a luxury good in China.