Study abroad losing favor with Shanghai parents

By Paul LePetit Source:Global Times Published: 2015-3-29 18:33:01

Though it has long been assumed that Shanghai parents share the dream of sending their children abroad to study, new declining numbers illustrate the contrary.

Zhang Jin, vice director of the International Exchange Office of the Shanghai Educational Commission, was last week quoted by city media as saying that while more than 15,000 graduating high school students from Shanghai were granted visas to study abroad in 2014, the number who actually enrolled in overseas universities had fallen sharply.

Perhaps we can attribute this vacillation on a societal reality check. For many parents, the cost of education abroad is ruinous. Four years of college in the US will cost the average family about 1 million yuan ($161,034). But before that Chinese students will have had to sit one of the costly international examinations to prove they can handle the demands of an overseas university, with no guarantee of acceptance.

Why would any Chinese family put themselves through such an ordeal?

An overseas education has traditionally been viewed by the Chinese as the "golden chance" for their sons and daughters. It gave students a wider range of subjects and opportunities, opened career doors, and, theoretically at least, resulted in fluency in another language.

But in recent years there have been cracks in the theory that an overseas education was more valuable than one obtained in China. Returning overseas graduates began complaining that they lacked "guanxi," networking, when they began applying for work in the mainland. Companies also tended to prefer locally educated staff because they were up to date with current affairs and business trends.

Not to mention that just because a Chinese student was accepted into a leading overseas university did not mean that he or she would necessarily succeed there. Figures from the British Higher Education Statistics Agency show that while 52 percent of overseas students from outside the European Union graduated with a high pass rate, only 42 percent of students from China graduated at that level.

There are also the inevitable cultural clashes, including language barriers, that young people from China encounter when they find themselves suddenly thrust into an alien society. Many foreign universities place greater emphasis on creativity and critical analysis, which for Chinese students coming from a culture where such methods are not normally part of the academic process, this can be a major challenge.

Despite the instinctive preference by Chinese students and their parents for Western institutions of higher learning, a study conducted late last year concluded that the value placed on education by Chinese parents had more of an influence on students' positive study habits and successful test scores than did any regional teaching methods.

As reported in the Journal of Education Policy, the study found that Chinese students in Australia did better at math than students in Shanghai, whom heretofore have widely been quoted as ranking the best in the world.

In Australia, Chinese students comprise some 40 percent of the international enrolments in universities. Britain has approximately 130,000 Chinese students at colleges and universities, with almost as many Chinese students as British on full-time postgraduate courses.

"Cultural background appears to be more consequential for the educational attainment of Chinese immigrant students than exposure to the educational systems of Australia or New Zealand," wrote the report's authors from the Ben-Gurion University in Israel.

Are the declining numbers of overseas schools enrolment a result of Chinese parents finally realizing that it is they themselves, not the school, that inspire good academic results from students? If so, this is a wake-up call for Shanghai families to save their money and start taking a second look at local universities.

Posted in: TwoCents, Metro Shanghai, Pulse

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