China increases enrollment of graduate students amid efforts to become innovative nation

Newly graduated Chinese students gather for a convocation ceremony at the University of Science and Technology in China's Anhui province on June 20, 2012. Photo: Getty Images

China's higher education institutions have opened their gates wider to the students who want to get into the graduate schools, as the country doubles down on its efforts to emerge as a nation powered by innovation and technology.

In 2017, Chinese universities and colleges gave roughly 800,000 candidates an opportunity to study at their graduate schools, doubling the number of applicants who were admitted into the graduate schools 10 years ago when the figure was just 400,000, showed statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics in late February.

As of the end of 2017, the number of students studying for a master's degree amounted to 2.63 million, up from 1.98 million in 2016, according to national statistics.

The expanding enrollment of graduate students benefits from the implementation of an ambitious five-year plan aimed at developing graduate education and strengthening the management of academic degrees. The educational scheme, which was jointly designed by the Ministry of Education and the Academic Degree Committee of the State Council, the country's cabinet, set a magnificent target for 2020, when China would become a graduate education center in the Asia-Pacific region and the number of students studying at the graduate schools would reach 2.9 million.

The plan identified graduate education as the apex of China's educational system, which props up the country's innovation-driven development. China must follow the global trend of technological innovation by injecting more resources into graduate education, which is considered by nations as an attraction to global talents, said the plan.

Last year, Chinese authorities initiated a project to elevate the country's universities and colleges and their courses to the world-class level in a bid to expand the global influence of its higher education.

With the country carrying out its 13th five-year plan outlining the development guidelines and targets for the 2016-2020 period, China has seen the cultivation of high-level talents as a driving force to reach the goal of becoming an innovative and technological powerhouse.

According to a document jointly published by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council in 2016, China plans to become an innovation-driven nation by 2020, an international leader in innovation by 2030 and a world bellwether of scientific and technological innovation by 2050.

Accordingly, professionals and skillful workers with better educational backgrounds have found favor with China's second-tier cities, as most high-end talents from home and abroad prefer the metropolises such as Beijing and Shanghai.

Different from big cities such as Beijing which adopts a strict points-based permanent residency policy to cap the population, Nanjing, the capital city of eastern China's Jiangsu province, has designed a favorable policy, under which people with a master's degree are given priority for permanent residency, or hukou.

Wuhan, the capital city of the Chinese southern province of Hubei, followed suit, with its Party boss calling on graduate and doctoral students to stay by providing talent-focused permanent residency and housing policies.

What's more, China has kept an eye on China-born specialists and professionals working abroad. Private and government-backed investors in the country have reportedly established venture capital funds to entice China-born executives and senior researchers at Western companies back home to launch their own startups, in expectation of high returns from investment in the domestic technology sector.

In addition to a focus on Chinese talents, China has also unveiled a series of policies to solicit global talents, with the latest such policy being a long-stay visa. In January, China's State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs announced new rules, which make it easier for what it called "high-end talents" including entrepreneurs, scientists and heavyweights in the technology-intensive sectors to obtain a Chinese visa valid for up to 10 years.

The new visa policy is a part of the national strategy to make China a more attractive destination for international talents to work and live, as Chinese leaders have said that the country was at a critical moment of economic restructuring, which largely depends on the introduction of a more favorable policy for talented foreigners.

There have also been speculations that China is poised to set up an immigration bureau with the influx of expats. Although no timetable has been announced yet, the country took a baby step two years ago by issuing a document to ease the Chinese green card application requirements for foreigners who are qualified in terms of salary, tax payment, business achievement, social reputation and so on. The document was followed by a trial operation of a national work permit system in nine cities that would rank foreign workers by A, B and C grades.

However, a report compiled by the Center of China and Globalization and the Institute of Development under the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics showed that China still lags behind other powerful nations in terms of attracting global talents. The report also said that the gap between Chinese cities in education remains wide as a majority of international students look beyond relatively small cities to big cities as their education destinations.

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