Five Reasons to do a Degree in China; and Five not to

An increasing number of students from around the world are enrolling in degree-programs in China. Additionally, an increasing number of joint-PhD and joint-degree programs are being set up between Chinese and non-Chinese universities, largely for graduate students, but also including undergraduate degrees. For persons contemplating their future study choices, this piece presents a short list of five reasons to do a degree in China, and five reasons not to, that might be a useful reference point.

Five Reasons to do a Research Degree in China: 

1. Language:One of the deepest linguistic dives is to study in a second language, lifting your language from an every day skill to a more professional level. (This of course only applies if the degree is a Chinese-language program, rather than one of the increasing variety of opportunities for courses taught in English). 

2. Resources: If you are studying Sinology, there’s no better place to be than close to the leading Chinese language resources, including those in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Similarly, the highest density of Chinese expertise is well, in China. You will need persistence to find them all. Similarly, an increasing number of scholarships for students to study in China where the cost of living can be cheaper than in many other places you might alternatively do your degree. 

3. Perspective: No better chance to understand a different perspective than to be a student inside a different system, and to acquire a degree to say you did it. It may prove to be more or less different than you had expected. You won’t know unless you try. 

4. Work Opportunities: If predictions for the Chinese economy over the coming decades come true, being the holder of a Chinese degree and part of related networks may prove lucrative and fun, and open all kinds of unexpected doors around the world. 

5. Alternatives: For contemporary committed Sinologists, learning about China in Chinese in China is a good alternative, especially for one of your research degrees – masters or PhD. If a PhD in China seems intensive, a masters degree is a lighter option. This would fine-tune your Chinese language skills, introduce you to Chinese academia, and open the door to a return as a Visiting Scholar during your PhD studies or for work later.

Five Reasons not to do a Research Degree in China:  

1. Language: Short of having Chinese that is near native level you will find yourself excluded from most of academic networking and conferences in China.  

2. Resources: Access to international data and journals is often not as comprehensive or up-to-date as well-endowed schools in developed countries. There is also limited financing for international students to attend conferences and under-take visiting research fellowships in third countries. 

3. Perspective: In social sciences especially you might find the academic starting point for your analysis is different to the one you had been planning to use. 

4. Work Opportunities: Even Chinese universities prefer to recruit USA Ivy League PhDs, whether the candidate is Chinese or foreign, at least at this stage. Moreover, even if you have perfect Chinese and a great qualification, without two years’ continuous full-time work experience you will not qualify for a work visa in China upon graduating in any case. Similarly, should you fall out of your home networks, this might make it difficult to transfer your Chinese degree to a home academic context.

5. Alternatives: Instead of a whole masters or PhD in China, there is the chance of a joint masters program between a school in own country or a third country and China, such as the LSE-PKU international relations program, and many many others. For PhD students, there is the choice of instead becoming a Visiting Research Fellowship at a Chinese university for a year or more. This presents a less intensive alternative to becoming a degree-seeker. There is an increasing array of related scholarships available.

The choice to undertake a degree in China is a personal one. This list may help to structure and prioritize in making that choice. Also think about your answers to questions like: Where do I want to live for the next few years and in future? In which circles and environments do I want to work? What is my area of research interest and where is best to study this – today and over the course of my expected career span?

The Asian Scientist writes that China has announced three of its scientists have just completed a 105-day habitation program within the bio-regenerative life support module in space. Be sure to reach for your own stars as you make your own important decisions. 

Lauren has worked in economic policy and research at the World Bank, World Economic Forum, EIU and for the governments of Sierra Leone and Guyana. She has learned Chinese since 1995, and lived in Beijing for almost six years, on and off since 1997. Lauren has a PhD in Economics from Peking University, an MSc in Development Economics from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and a B.A/B.Com from the University of Melbourne.

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