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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 August, 2004, 13:31 GMT 14:31 UK
China's students flock to Europe
By Helen Leavey in York

Luo Weiqi at his part-time job
Luo Weiqi (R) works in a restaurant to help pay his course fees
Li Keji and Luo Weiqi work long hours to pay for their education.

But unlike most Chinese students, they are studying on the other side of the world, in the English city of York.

Miss Li and Mr Luo are not the only Chinese students to choose to complete their education in the UK. In fact there are more than 400 Chinese students in the University of York alone.

They hope that when they have completed their degrees, the door to better jobs and more money will open for them, both abroad and at home.

"I wanted to improve my English in the best place, using it in the real world," said 23-year-old Mr Luo, who is studying for a MSc in applied mathematics.

"When I graduate there is a high probability I will get a high salary here, elsewhere or in China."

"Studying in York will also look good on my CV, showing I am well-educated and can adapt to a foreign environment easily," he said.

Miss Li's parents, a carpenter and a factory quality controller, spent their savings to pay for her tuition fees - 7,800 ($14,000) for a one-year MA in public administration, with living expenses on top.

"My cousin studied in Britain," said the 25-year-old.

"The more Chinese people study here, the more others back home are encouraged to do so. My course is shorter here than in the US, so therefore cheaper"

"It is easier to get a visa for the UK than for the US, and I think the English examination for the UK is easier to pass," she added.

New generation

Chinese students have been going overseas since the Beijing government embarked on reforms that opened up the country to the outside world in the late 1970s.

But whereas the first wave of students tended to go to the US, Japan, Canada and Australia, many Chinese university students and even some high school pupils are now being attracted to Europe.

University of York
There are more than 400 Chinese students at York University
Helen Etheridge, from the British Council, said this was "partly due to the availability of many courses delivered in English, and partly due to the availability of free tuition or scholarships".

In 2002-03, there were almost 32,000 Chinese students in higher education in the UK.

Germany, France, Ireland and the Netherlands have also seen massive increases in the number of Chinese applications.

"In 2003-2004, a total of 18 Chinese students were enrolled in our BSc programme," said Robbert-Jan Slobben, the programme manager for the English-taught BSc in economics and business at the University of Amsterdam.

"We could have admitted many more, but we have a policy of admitting no more than 10% from one nationality," Mr Slobben said.

Dr Frank Pieke, director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Oxford University, tells a similar tale.

He said he knew of a private school in Oxford where the Chinese intake of students was capped at 30%, although the school could easily be filled with Chinese pupils alone.

He said China's growing wealth and growing middle class had proved a big spur to the trend of studying in Europe.

"The Chinese want to make the most of opportunities for their children and there are more seriously affluent Chinese now.

"They have a house in the village, a flat in the city, a car and a driver. They travel but it is often difficult to get visas. So they plough their money into their kids.

"Many people who got rich illegally do this as a way of evading taxes," he said.

Enticing students

Some universities say they do not need to do much to entice Chinese students to apply to them.

Mr Slobben from the University of Amsterdam said: "We are not recruiting actively since we get many good applications and we don't have enough places to accept them all."

But given the sheer number of potential students in China, it is hardly surprising that other universities are doing their utmost to entice Chinese students through their doors.

There is also a large cash incentive. Universities frequently charge foreign students around double what a home-grown student would pay.

European universities are also keen to recruit more foreigners for advanced research.

Many such universities lose their postgraduate students to overseas campuses, and Chinese students can help to fill the gap.

Unsurprisingly, many European universities are now spending a lot of time building links with Chinese institutions, and regularly visit China to recruit.

However, as Miss Li says, not every Chinese student is entirely happy with their time in Europe.

"I know some Chinese students see their foreign university as a company, looking only to serve its own commercial interests," she said.

"Many students feel they are losing face, because they think universities only accept them because they can pay the high fees, and maybe they aren't really good enough."

But minor quibbles like this are unlikely to stop the stream of Chinese students flowing into Europe.

The world's most populous country has a seemingly endless supply of students, who have the money and the desire to learn overseas - and Europe is increasingly their destination of choice.

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