Drop in Chi­nese stu­dents wor­ri­some to US uni­ver­si­ties

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - TOP NEWS - By LIA ZHU in San Fran­cisco li­azhu@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

The re­ver­sal of the trend of more Chi­nese go­ing to the United States to study, es­pe­cially at the un­der­grad­u­ate level, is caus­ing con­cern at US uni­ver­si­ties about rev­enue and aca­demic re­search.

For a decade, there had been con­sis­tent and rapid growth in Chi­nese un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dents com­ing into the US, said Rahul Choudaha, a re­search as­so­ciate at Cen­ter for Stud­ies in Higher Ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley. But in fall 2017, for the first time in re­cent years, the num­ber shifted down­ward, Choudaha said.

Some in­sti­tu­tions, such as the uni­ver­si­ties of Ore­gon and Illi­nois, have seen a sig­nif­i­cant de­cline in Chi­nese stu­dent en­roll­ment this year, es­pe­cially for non-STEM pro­grams (sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, engi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics), Choudaha said.

Based on his anal­y­sis of the Na­tional Sci­ence Foun­da­tion’s data, the num­ber of Chi­nese un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dents in non­science and nonengi­neer­ing pro­grams de­creased by 1,920 in the fall of 2017 com­pared with fall 2016. The to­tal num­ber of Chi­nese un­der­grad­u­ates in the US dropped by 110 in fall 2017 com­pared with the pre­vi­ous year.

The de­cline is mean­ing­ful from the per­spec­tive of trends, said Choudaha, also ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent for global en­gage­ment and re­search at StudyPor­tals, a com­pany that re­cruits in­ter­na­tional stu­dents on­line.

“In 2006, the num­ber of Chi­nese un­der­grad­u­ates in the US was 10,000, and in 2016 the num­ber in­creased to 142,000. Then the re­verse started hap­pen­ing,” he said.

Mul­ti­ple fac­tors played into the change, and one is the ongoing anti-im­mi­grant rhetoric and un­wel­com­ing cli­mate, Choudaha said.

“The elec­tion of (US Pres­i­dent Don­ald) Trump has changed the nar­ra­tive of how wel­com­ing the US as a na­tion is, es­pe­cially at the un­der­grad­u­ate level, where fam­i­lies make de­ci­sions based on the stu­dents’ choice and their safety,” he said.

Re­stric­tions in­clude lim­it­ing the length of visas for Chi­nese stu­dents and schol­ars study­ing and con­duct­ing re­search in cer­tain sen­si­tive fields.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion also con­sid­ered but re­jected a pro­posal to bar all Chi­nese stu­dents, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Fi­nan­cial Times re­port.

“Ev­ery visa that’s a hassle, ev­ery time some­body gets the idea that Chi­nese peo­ple are not wel­come in the US, in my opin­ion, that’s not only morally wrong but also eco­nom­i­cally stupid,” Robert Merges, a law pro­fes­sor at UC Berke­ley, said at a panel dis­cus­sion on US-China re­la­tions on Tues­day in Berke­ley.

“Any­body who wants to be here and can make a con­tri­bu­tion should be wel­come. There was a time in the US when that was our fun­da­men­tal be­lief. I’m a lit­tle wor­ried about that be­lief these days,” he said.

Merges said it’s “fool­ish pol­icy”, in eco­nomic terms, to turn away peo­ple who want to learn and con­trib­ute.

Shiyang Gong, a Sil­i­con Val­ley-based im­mi­gra­tion lawyer, said tight­ened re­stric­tions and the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate have made some of her clients give up on ap­ply­ing for an H-1B visa, which al­lows US com­pa­nies to em­ploy for­eign work­ers in spe­cialty oc­cu­pa­tions.

“All Chi­nese stu­dents want to work in the US for some ex­pe­ri­ence, even if they plan to re­turn to China af­ter grad­u­a­tion,” said Gong. “There’s a lot of anx­i­ety. The loss of work op­por­tu­nity might in­flu­ence prospec­tive stu­dents’ choices of uni­ver­si­ties.”

China is the largest source of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents in the US. There were 350,755 Chi­nese stu­dents, or about 35 per­cent of all for­eign stu­dents, study­ing at US uni­ver­si­ties, ac­cord­ing to the Open Doors study late last year.

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