China is the hot new place to study abroad. That’s the headline The New York Times culls from the Institute of International Education’s new report on educational exchanges between the United States and a battery of other countries. But China is still only the fifth most common destination for U.S. students, and is still second to India in sending students to the United States.
Some people like to make arguments about what one country thinks of another by how many students go there. Certainly, there are likely to be consequences if large numbers of students from one country study in a particular other country, but it’s hard to know the causes. This passage from the country fact sheet on China from IIE suggests that politics are relevant, at least in some cases.
China sent no students to the US from the 1950s until 1974/75. In the 1980s, numbers of Chinese students grew dramatically, and in 1988/89, China displaced Taiwan as the leading sender. China was the leading place of origin from 1988/89 until it was displaced by Japan in 1994/95. In 1998/99, China overtook Japan as the leading sender, and remained in the number one position until being overtaken by India in 2001/02, and has remained in second place since.
It’s my bailiwick to compare Chinese and Japanese relations with the United States, so I’ll add some more. While the number of Chinese students in the United States increased 19.8 percent over last year’s report, Japan sent 3.7 percent fewer and was the place of origin of only 5.4 percent of foreign students in the United States. (I’m pretty sure data on China–Japan exchanges is released by the two governments, so hopefully I can find that later.)
If we compare U.S. students’ destinations, both China and Japan appear to be gaining popularity. China comes in fifth (after the U.K., Italy, Spain, and France), and Japan 11th. Both countries gained over the previous year—China by 25.6 percent and Japan by 13.6 percent, beating the overall increase of 8.6 percent. The Olympics should not be a factor here because the most recent data in the IIE fact sheet is 2006/07. This perhaps lopsided but concurrent increase in interest is bourne out in language enrollments, at least at Harvard University, where a professor mentioned in a speech some weeks ago that both languages had grown enrollments significantly.
What, if anything, does this tell us? On its own, not a lot. But I’ll give you a little more. More students from the United States are going to Japan and China, but among the top 20 destinations, several other countries also beat the 8.6 baseline increase: Spain, France, Argentina, South Africa, Czech Republic, Chile, Ecuador, and India. Only Asian countries and Saudi Arabia beat the 7 percent overall increase in number of students studying in the United States.