Event Recap- Increasing US Student Mobility to China: US-China University Workshop

On Thursday evening, January 11 (January 12 in China), the US-China Education Trust (USCET) and the China Education Association for International Exchange (CEAIE) co-hosted a workshop on increasing opportunities for Americans to study in China. The number of American students in China has dropped dramatically in recent years, and is climbing only slowly post-pandemic.  An issue of importance to educators in both countries, almost 600 people registered for the virtual event, including representatives from more than 150 American and Chinese universities.  Most people attended online, but a group of presenters from around China attended in person at CEAIE’s office in Beijing, as well as an American studying in Beijing, and a representative from the US Embassy in Beijing. 

The event was designed to address practical issues and solutions. A summary of the discussion follows, and the full recording can be viewed by clicking the video above. Readers will also find links to workshop-related resources below, and the individual speaker presentations are linked to their remarks in the summary below.  

This event was presented with support from the US Embassy in Beijing and in partnership with Institute for International Education (IIE) and NAFSA Association of International Educators. It was the third in a series of USCET-CEAIE collaborative programs focused on rebuilding US China education exchanges and highlighting the enduring and powerful value that education exchanges have in building trust and understanding. 

Watch the full workshop by clicking the video above!

Download the Program Agenda and Additional Resources for Educators and Students Below

For PowerPoint presentations, see the Workshop Summary below.

Workshop Summary

The workshop opened with welcome remarks from CEAIE and USCET. CEAIE President Liu Limin noted that this year marks the 45th anniversary of US-China diplomatic ties, and highlighted Pres. Xi Jinping’s recent proposal to host 50,000 American youth in China over the next five years as a sign of the importance of maintaining people-to people exchanges among youth. Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch, Executive Chair of USCET, echoed the importance of China’s desire to host more American students, and challenged the speakers and the audience, asking: “Can it be done? Will we see 50,000 American students in China in the next five years?”  

Representatives of both governments spoke next. The US Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé D’Affaires David Meale, in his remarks, noted the large discrepancy between the number of Chinese and American students studying in each other’s countries. Beijing is now the US State Department’s number one visa issuing post in the world, he said, and “We welcome those students to the United States. We would even be happy to see those numbers increase.” Mr. Chen Dali, Deputy Director of the Chinese Ministry of Education’s Department of International Cooperation and Exchanges spoke next.  Director Chen reiterated the hope that more Americans would be able to come to China to experience the country firsthand and noted a positive beginning in the fact that several American student groups had recently been to China. Let’s work on the details together, he said.

Setting the Stage

The next two speakers set the stage with detailed data on the trends of American students studying in China and China’s hosting of foreign students. The first speaker, Mirka Martel, who is Head of Research at IIE’s Open Doors, unpacked the facts surrounding Americans studying abroad and in China in recent years. Martel said the number of U.S. students studying abroad has rebounded to about half of its pre-pandemic high. While most U.S. outbound students are headed to Europe, Martel noted a strong rebound of US students studying in Korea and Japan, and much slower rates of recovery for US students studying in China. (Mirka Martel Presentation). Ms. Martel was followed by Ms. Wu Yimeng, consultant to China’s Ministry of Education, who reviewed China’s efforts to attract more foreign students following the pandemic disruption. The remainder of the workshop focused on the three key issues below. 

Key Issues: Issue 1: Broadening the Base of Students Going to China

Jeff Wang, Vice Provost for Global and Immersive Studies at American University drew on his long experience in the field to discuss some of the reasons that American students may be slow to return to China since the pandemic. “I have seen that…American students are less adventurous and more risk averse when they decide to study abroad,” he said. He also cited as possible factors the negative portrayal of China in the U.S. media, concerns about pollution, and China’s current lack of an appealing pop culture relative to other countries in the region like Korea and Japan. 

Denis Simon, former Executive Vice Chancellor at Duke Kunshan University spoke next. “We must begin to move beyond trying to attract the types of students that used to dominate….and begin to discover an entirely new source of potential participants,” said Simon. His remarks included practical suggestions such as involving existing joint venture university faculty in summer programs and forming a US university consortium to recruit students in particular fields.  

Issue 2: Designing Short-term Study Abroad/Internship Programs

The next four speakers brought a wealth of practical expertise to the topic of how to develop short-term programs to attract more American students to China. First, Ms. Liu Yibo of CEAIE gave a presentation that summarized an impressive collection of short-term programs that are already on offer, hosted by Chinese universities, in 2024. (Liu Yibo Presentation)   

Huajing Maske, Assistant Vice President for International Partnerships at Wayne State University drew on her experience to contrast American student motivation and challenges both before and after the pandemic. She recommended that study abroad programs align closely with students’ career objectives. Collaborative project-based research and internships with industry partners “provide students with valuable insight into a Chinese business environment” she said. She also had suggestions on how to make programs more accessible for non-Chinese speakers. (Huajing Maske Presentation)

Next, CHEN Zhimin, Vice President of Fudan University, spoke about Chinese university term programs co-hosted with American university partners using his school as an example. Fudan hosts youth leadership dialogue programs at their Shanghai campus with American universities such as Georgetown, Harvard, and Boston University. They also offer a diverse range of summer courses for international students including STEM subjects, Economics, History, and Pharmacy. (Chen Zhimin Presentation)

Shi Yunyu, Director of the Office of International Exchange and Cooperation, Jiangsu Provincial Department of Education, shared a provincial perspective. Jiangsu is home to long-established partnerships with American universities, including the Hopkins Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies, and Duke Kunshan University. The province also offers field studies which give students real-world learning opportunities, such as the Yangtze River Protection and Development program. (Shi Yunyu Presentation)

Issue 3: Student Life in China

The next three speakers addressed student life, health, and safety issues in China. Adam Jones, Director of China programs and Special Initiatives at third party program provider CET Academic Programs shared some of CET’s best practices. “We believe strongly in knowing before you go,” he said. CET’s pre-departure orientations cover logistics like cell phones and money in China, as well as health and wellness. Since resuming programs post-COVID, Jones said that American participants report overwhelmingly positive interactions with Chinese peers. The biggest obstacle is the State Department’s Level 3 Travel Advisory, he said. “For a lot of our schools, that’s just a complete non-starter.” 

Wang Ying, Director of the Office of International Students at Beijing Institute of Technology, outlined what health and wellness look like for foreign students in China and at her university, with specifics on the availability of low-cost health insurance. Wang also highlighted China’s low crime rate, convenient public transportation, share bikes, and mobile payment systems. (Wang Ying Presentation)

Caitlin Tierney, an American master’s student at the Yenching Academy of Peking University, drew on her own current experience studying and working on campus. Her experience at Peking University has been very positive so far, she said, and “given me a really amazing platform to promote…meaningful cultural exchange.”  

Closing Remarks

The workshop closed with remarks from leaders of three important non-profit organizations working at the forefront of international education. Joann Hartmann, representing NAFSA Association of International Educators, stressed the importance of continuing US-China exchanges. “More than ever, the future depends on relationship building, collaboration, understanding, and shared goals,” she said. “And who better to work on this than the youth of both our nations?” 

 Alan Goodman, CEO of the Institute of International Education, challenged the workshop’s participants to continue this important work. When IIE began its work in the 1920s, he recalled, the White Star Line shipping company created a special third class so that students could afford international travel. To achieve the goal of 50,000 US students visiting China in the next five years, Goodman suggested reserving seats on civil aviation flights at special student rates. “It’s going to take more convenings like this…to better understand the new realities of the China US academic relationship,” he said. 

If you agree about the importance of programs like these, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the US-China Education Trust. Your generosity will support USCET’s work to create opportunities for exchanges between students and scholars in the US and China, and to keep US-China education exchanges strong.