BRI paves way for internationalization of Chinese universities
Alex Chan

Editor's note: Alex Chan is a PhD student in diplomacy at Peking University. Previously, he graduated in China studies from Peking University and international relations from the London School of Economics. 

Chinese universities have experienced, during the past years, tremendous changes, which are reflected in international rankings. According to the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), an increasing number of Chinese academic institutions are being included in the world's top 500 universities. If in 2008, there were around 30 universities from China in this ranking, 10 years later this number has doubled. Among which, Tsinghua University, Peking University, Zhejiang University and Fudan University remain the top four best academic institutions in the country.

There are many reasons to explain why universities in China have climbed so rapidly in international statistics. The country's ongoing reform and opening-up, facilitating the internationalization of its higher education, is certainly one of the main reasons. In fact, national policies targeted specifically the internationalization of Chinese higher education.

A picture of China's Tsinghua University. /VCG Photo.

A picture of China's Tsinghua University. /VCG Photo.

In the 13th Five-Year Plan for Economic and Social Development (2016-2020), priorities were given to developing China's world-class universities and disciplines as well as to promoting international cooperation in the field of education.

This includes encouraging educational activities related to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), implementing the study abroad action plan and ensuring that Confucius Institutes run smoothly. According to the Confucius Institute Headquarters, there are about 548 Confucius Institutes operating in 154 countries and regions globally. They have been serving not only in bridging China with the world, but also in promoting the Chinese language, so that more and more people gain access to the culture and language of Confucius.

Globalization and China's open and welcoming attitudes towards academic exchanges are all important factors contributing to the internationalization of Chinese universities. The Chinese Government Scholarships, offered by the China Scholarship Council and entrusted by the Chinese Ministry of Education (MOE), play a crucial role in promoting mutual understanding, cooperation and exchanges between China and other countries. 

A picture of China's Peking University. /VCG Photo.

A picture of China's Peking University. /VCG Photo.

Through the Chinese Government Scholarships, international students can undertake degree studies as bachelor, master or Ph.D. students in various fields. Besides the Chinese Governments Scholarships, international students can also apply for grants offered by local governments, Confucius Institutes, universities as well as by the private sector.

According to statistics from MOE, in 2017 there were around 489,200 international students who came to China to pursue academic education, representing an increase of 10 percent for the second consecutive year. The number of students from countries along the BRI accounted for 64.85 percent of foreign students in China, up 11.58 percent over 2016 and a number that keeps rising as a result of increasing interests from these countries toward the initiative proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013.

An example of the internationalization of Chinese higher education is certainly the establishment of the Yenching Academy of Peking University, one of the most important academic platforms for intercultural exchange and for exploring China's “past, present, and future” role vis-à-vis globalization.

The 13th Confucius Institute Conference concluded in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, December 5, 2018. /VCG Photo.

The 13th Confucius Institute Conference concluded in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, December 5, 2018. /VCG Photo.

Tsinghua and Peking University are undoubtedly some of the most significant examples of Chinese academic excellence at home and overseas. Without China's commitment to reform and opening-up as well as open and inclusive initiatives, such as the Belt and Road Initiative, such progress may have been difficult to achieve. 

While visiting Peking University in May last year, in occasion of its 120th Anniversary, President Xi reiterated the need to create world-class universities with Chinese characteristics. Scholarships for international students, the universities' inclusive and open attitudes, good government policies and the establishment of programs, are all extremely important for the internationalization of Chinese higher education.

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