China’s International Scholarships: What’s Happening?

China’s Minister for Education, Yuan Guiren, announced plans in July to more than double the number of scholarships available to foreign students “within a few years”. This will begin over the current school year, when scholarship investment will be at least RMB1.5bn, Zhang Xiuqin of the Ministry of Education’s department of international cooperation and exchange told the Global Times.

According to the China Scholarship Council, in 2011 there were 292,611 international students from 194 countries studying in China. Just over a third of students studying non-language majors, while are nearly 40 per cent, mostly at this stage from Asia, are degree-seeking. Of the total, just 25,687 are scholarship recipients, a majority being also students from developing countries. The number of students on scholarship was up 15% in 2011 year-on-year.

From nearly 300,000 foreign students in 2011, the number of international students targeted for 2020 is 500,000. By comparison, America’s Institute of International Education reports that there were 720,000 international students arriving in America in 2010, fewer than the number China seeks by 2020. Of the target 500,000, it is intended that 150,000 will be degree-seekers. In support of these targets there are a rising number of scholarships. The target for a few years from now, so around 2015, is 50,000, almost 50 per cent higher than 2011[1].

Government policy announcements as well as student recipients and applicants for these increasing array of scholarships indicate shifts in the type of scholarships being offered. A greater proportion of scholarships for example are being directed to students taking English-language instructed programmes. Similarly, a rising number of scholarships are only partial scholarships. Whereas in the past most scholarships were intended for students from developing countries, a rising number though potentially not share are now being allocated to students from high-income countries.

China for example has promised 10,000 more scholarships to students from the United States. Together with a complementary basket of funding from the US government and private sources, it is hoped that 100,000 US students will be enrolled to study, either short or long-term programmes, in China by 2013. In 2011 there were 23,292 US students studying in China, with 2,094 receiving government funding.

In terms of where students study, anecdotal reports suggest that students being awarded some scholarships are being directed to places outside of traditional recipient schools in cities like Beijing, at schools such as the Foreign Languages Institute and Peking University. Instead, some students report being offered full scholarships at second or third preference schools in China’s lesser known sometimes second-tier and often more regional schools. A focus among these is the 31 schools that beyond the original nine schools comprise Project 985. This seeks to internationalise a list of leading Chinese universities.

In money in the pocket terms, new government money translates into an increase in the average scholarship from RMB50,000 to RMB60,000. Degree-seekers receive above this average, with full scholarship recipients receiving a monthly stipend, accommodation, fees, and health insurance, in many cases across the full duration of their degree, plus a potential one-year of extension. Thus, for a four-year PhD scholar requiring two years of pre-course Chinese language training, a full scholarship may cover a total of seven years’ study, inclusive of accommodation, fees, insurance and a monthly stipend of RMB2000 throughout. Application for study at such schools might even form a strategy for increasing the chance of award of a scholarship. Often students from rich countries however are funded for a limit of three years, though not in all cases. 

As comprehensive and generous as the scholarships are, especially at universities with new and highly modern dormitory facilities, research students may nonetheless find they do not qualify for extensive local university funding for student participation in international conferences and nor for third country international research exchanges. This is an area that may be worth exploring by Chinese institutions and partner governments and institutions both inside and outside of China. It may also be worth countries with sufficient funds available setting up a matching funds pool for related such applications, not even just from students in China, but across emerging education markets.

Less directly but importantly it is expected that in these more dispersed international scholarship student footsteps will follow a growing number of self-financed international students to China. Their numbers were up by 10 per cent to 266,924 in 2011. These students may be inspired to learn more about and spend time living in a rising superpower, may have missed the chance of entry to a school at home, or may even be seeking to avoid the debt levels that studying in the West increasingly requires. Whatever is the motivation, they will part of a growing body of increasingly mobile international students and scholarships recipients changing history in acting to change the international educational landscape. Their footsteps will no doubt correspondingly be observed by future students and education leaders accordingly.

Further resources on China’s scholarships for international students:

China Scholarship Council:

Australian Education International:



 ‘China welcomes foreign students, joint schools’, China Daily, 06/09/12, 

 ‘International students’ scholarships to increase’, China Daily, 26/04/12, 

China Scholarship Council, Statistics of International Students in China in 2011.



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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