Each June, young Chinese applying for overseas study undergo the most anxious time in their life as they queue up in front of foreign embassies and wait for their visas. This year, however, embassies did not receive as many applicants as in the past, an official with the British embassy to China told Xinhua.
"More and more Chinese students seem to be losing interest in overseas study, as the number of applicants to study in Britain, the United States, and Australia have all dropped to their historically lowest point," the official told Xinhua, refusing to give his name.
Hu Benwei, a senior staff member at Golden Orient, a well-known intermediate company for overseas study services based in Beijing, also revealed that one fifth of the 50 local intermediate companies shut down in recent days due to lack of customers. Statistics from Golden Orient show that the number of Chinese studying overseas lowered to 100,000 last year from 120,000 in 2003.
Such a decline can be clearly seen in major destinations for Chinese students such as Britain and the United States. The Financial Times reported that Chinese students pursuing undergraduate study in Britain drastically dropped by 25.8 percent last year over the previous year. A US authorized investigation also found overseas students for graduate study lowered by 32 percent, in which Chinese students made up the largest proportion.
Aspiring Chinese students have dreamed of going abroad ever since the late 1970s when China first adopted its opening-up policies. With the fast growth of personal income, those who could not realize the dream themselves turned to their children. In recent years, the number of self-funded overseas students in China jumped to 79 percent of the total, bringing forth an enormous market for the education industry.
A report from the Higher Education Statistics Agency of Britain said from 2003 to 2004, a total of 47,740 students from the Chinese mainland studied in more than 100 British universities, accounting for nearly one sixth of the overseas students in Britain. Each year, overseas students from the European Union contribute 10.4 billion pounds to the British education sector and 1.73 billion pounds come from Chinese mainland students.
"The striking contrast between the cost of overseas study and the income of graduates returning from overseas directly led to the decrease," said Hu Benwei.
According to Hu, the average annual income of a Chinese family in a medium-size city is around 80,000 yuan (around 9,700 US dollars), while a single child studying in Britain will spend 200, 000 to 250,000 yuan (around 24,000 to 30,000 US dollars). And the expenditure for a child in Australia and the United States at the highest level is 130,000 yuan (15,700 US dollars) and 300,000 (36, 200 US dollars), respectively.
However, it was reported early this year that an overseas returned student without working experience could expect a monthly income of 2,500 to 4,000 yuan (around 302 to 483 US dollars ) on average.
"I wonder how long it will take before I earn back my school debt," Wu Dan, a Chinese student in Australia said, unable to cover up her worry.
Sources with the Chinese Ministry of Education said from 1978 to 2002, more than 580,000 Chinese went overseas to study, of whom 150,000 have returned.
Most officials with foreign embassies in China said the increase of Sino-foreign joint education programs and the improvement of Chinese higher education also made some Chinese stay home for advanced study. At present, there are around 80 education programs jointly held by China and the UK. The rapid increase of foreign investment in China has also inspired Chinese young people.
The number of self-funded Chinese students studying in British independent schools last year also dropped by 8 percent to 1,020, which, as the British Independent School Council commented, "has greatly influenced the industry."
Liu Chang, a real estate agent in Beijing has dropped his plan to send his 15-year kid to Britain. "I learned from some reports that some young people got used to some bad habits, such as boasting about the wealth of their parents. What's worse, their studies were totally in a mess and few of them can enter the university," he said.
Like Liu, more and more Chinese parents dare not to send their children abroad due to the "high risk" of their educational investment.
Wu Ling, a Chinese scholar doing her doctoral degree research at the British Warwick University saw this problem in another way. She said the decrease of self-funded students mirrored the enhanced supervision by the Chinese government over corruption.
"Many corruption cases of high-ranking officials in recent days were initiated because of their children, who studied and lived like the upper class in foreign countries," she explained, adding that provinces and regions where severely corrupt officials were indicted had more self-funded students than other areas.
Early this year, the China Economic Times indicated that in the year 2000 alone, money fleeing from China to other countries reached 48 billion US dollars, far exceeding the foreign investment of 40.7 billion US dollars to China.
Foreign embassy officials interviewed said that most self- funded students come from common families. Local media reported that 80 percent of the Chinese resident deposits belong to 20 percent of the 1.3 billion population.
Insiders revealed the Chinese government dispatched an expert team to make an investigation into Chinese overseas students, in a bid to work out a solution pinpointing emerging problems.
"It is undeniable that such a move by the government has made some of the privileged more careful," Wu Ling stressed.
Miao Hui, a Chinese student, told reporters that the complicated procedure for visa approval has also pushed many of her compatriots to lose patience with overseas study.
Veteran overseas study services agent Hu Benwei said the British government tightened its visa policies on overseas study and immigration, due to the two major British parties' competition for the general election.
Incomplete statistics show that in 2003 Chinese approved for overseas study in Britain totaled 25,000, while the number last year was only 15,000, a downward trend of 30 percent.
Facing the same decrease of Chinese overseas students, an official with the US embassy to China said the US government will give all possible conveniences to Chinese students.