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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 September 2005, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Chinese students drawn to Britain
By Nick Mackie
BBC correspondent, Chongqing

Chinese student Lin Disheng, (Sam) 22, who studies in England
"Young people like me want to make a contribution," says Lin Disheng (Sam)
Sporting a red England football shirt, the young man on the river bridge stares at the shimmering high rise cityscape - but he's really focused on the dreaming spires of Oxford, nearly 9,000km away.

Lin Disheng, 22, will soon leave

Chongqing again - returning to England and its oldest university for his master's degree in computer science.

He studied for his Bachelor of Science at Nottingham University - gaining a first class honours in e-commerce and digital business, coming third in his year.

Sam - as he likes to be known - is one of over half a million Chinese studying abroad.

Fifty thousand have opted for Britain - bringing an estimated $1bn (550m) to British coffers.

'Western technologies'

"China is going through a rapid industrialisation process. It's becoming more and more open," explains Sam.

"Chinese young people like me want to make a contribution to this rapid process. That's why I want to study In the UK - to learn better western technologies and experience the western culture and do the best I can."

Britain's new college and school year is upon us. And so, jetting-in from all corners of the globe are over 200,000 foreign students like Sam who have opted for a UK education - and with it, by default, British weather and British food.

And if the British government has its way, this number could quadruple to nearly 900,000 over the next 15 years - a quarter from China's growing middle class.

Students in Chinese library
If this goal is realised, education would deliver more than $20bn (11bn) annually to the UK economy - more foreign revenue than today's exports of cars, food, beverages and tobacco.

As well as attracting valuable foreign income, Britain sees the education market as a way to secure long term interests - especially in China - by solidifying good relations when tomorrow's business and government leaders are young and at university. And the Chinese students are well aware of this.

"When they come back, the Chinese students can build a more healthy country and develop a very good relationship with Britain," says Sam.

But there are no guarantees.

The traditional big players, Britain and the US, are increasingly facing competition for market share.

Education is big business. In fact, for both the UK and the US, income from foreign brain power is greater than export sales of firepower - that is, arms and ammunition.

However, post 9/11 security fears and restrictive visa controls are shrinking America's dominance of the 2 million strong international student market.
I just want to go to a good university and get a high education- that's the main point
Zhang Qin (Sonny)

While in Britain, a third of colleges reported a drop in last year's foreign enrolments due to visa problems.

The UK's university admissions body, UCAS, reported last week that acceptances from China for undergraduate degrees for the coming academic year were down by 21.3% from 4,401 to 3,464.

But Chinese students remain the largest single group among overseas students in the UK .

In downtown Chongqing, Solton Overseas Development arranges visas, schools and university places globally for hundreds of Chongqing's new rich every year.

Fees are approximately $1000 (550) a head - which is the average annual income in this part of China.

Consultants at Solton admit that parents are now concerned about terror attacks in London.

And faced with rising costs of education fees and a strong pound, they're also shopping around for the best education deal.

"For a long time, many students chose to go to Britain," says Nie Ying, Consulting Manager.

"But now there's growing competition from other countries: Australia, New Zealand and Canada. But we still think that Britain has more advantages and is the better choice.'

That's what 18-year-old Zhang Qin's parents believe.

He'll be leaving his friends again - and their daily basketball game - to return to Bellerby's near Cambridge for his A-levels. There are over 8000 Chinese students in British private schooling or doing foundation courses ahead of university.

Most develop an appetite for the English language - but few enjoy the cuisine.

"Sometimes I think British food is really, not really good," giggles Sonny, as he's known in Britain.

18-year-old Zhang Qin, or Sonny as he is known in Britain
Zhang Qin (Sonny) admits he feels homesick studying in England
He admits that homesickness gets him down.

"Everything is better here," he stresses, "but I just want to go to a good university and get a high education. That's the main point."

Even at university level, China's education system is still based on teaching, repetition and deference to professors rather than arguments in seminars, individual study and critical analysis.

As part of any curriculum, students must also attend political classes - usually twice per week - aimed at bolstering Marxism, Mao Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory and Jiang Zemin's Three Represents.

In their studies, they have to take care not to contradict the Communist Party line.

At a trendy Yangtze riverside restaurant with his friends, Sam the postgraduate student explained why this holds students back .

"With Chinese universities, you've got a more rigid education system, where it is really hard to challenge the professors and to challenge the academic staff."

If the UK rises above the competition, many more students like Sam and Sonny will be winging their way to Britain.

China alone could be the country's most lucrative education market - with more students at British universities than mainland Europeans.


SEE ALSO:
University launches China campus
05 Sep 05 |  Nottinghamshire
Chinese get a taste of Blairism
05 Sep 05 |  UK Politics
China's students flock to Europe
24 Aug 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Why we chose to study in Britain
05 Jul 05 |  Education
Universities denounce visa move
05 Jul 05 |  Education
Scramble to win student millions
24 Jan 05 |  Education
UK study applicants are up 8.9%
17 Feb 05 |  Education


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