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China claims top spot among countries sending students to US

Students at Vanderbilt University Law School. Photo: Facebook

The number of Chinese students enrolled in US institutions of higher education in the 2015-2016 academic year increased by 8.1 percent to 328,547 students from the previous academic year's 304,040, topping the list of international students studying in the US for the seventh year in a row, according to a report.

The 2016 Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange (Open Doors), an annual report on international academic mobility issued by the Institute of International Education (IIE), showed that Chinese students studying in American colleges and universities accounted for 31.5 percent of all international students in the 2015-2016 academic year, with Chinese students studying for an undergraduate degree outnumbering those seeking a graduate degree for two consecutive years.

In the 2015-2016 academic year, there were 135,629 Chinese undergraduate students studying in the US, representing an increase of 8.9 percent from the previous academic year, while the number of Chinese graduate students increased by 2.4 percent year-on-year to 123,250 students, according to the 2016 Open Doors report.

The number of non-degree students and optional practical training (OPT) students from China stood at altogether 69,668 students in the 2015-2016 academic year, representing an increase of 5.3 percent and 21.1 percent respectively, said the 2016 Open Doors report.

Continuity in education visa policies

The release of the 2016 Open Doors report comes as populist president-elect Donald Trump appears to hold a tough attitude toward immigration and visa policies.

In response to public fears over a possible policy change under the presidency of Trump that may put obstacles to the student exchanges between China and the US, Lisa Heller, minister counselor for public affairs at the US Embassy in Beijing, told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday that there is "no anticipated changes" in the student visa policy of the US amid the growing interest in studying in the US. Heller predicted that the trend will continue for years.

Heller's view was echoed by Julie Kavanagh, minister counselor for consular affairs at the US Embassy in Beijing, who said at Tuesday's press conference that the US' immigration and visa laws are laws whose validity needs the ratification of the congress.

"There are often very excited debates about the immigration policy and immigration law in our political process, but it all involves a political process of compromises, changes and debates. And very often we have lots of debates and no change. So I do not see that there is necessarily going to be any difference in the next administration," said Kavanagh, who hailed the US government and people's support of student exchanges both into and out of the US as a strength of the American education system and as a reason for the diversity that the US has at its universities and schools.

"So I would expect that it would continue," said Kavanagh.

Facing increasing number of Chinese students planning to study at US universities and colleges, Education USA, a program supported by the US Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, established four new service centers in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenyang and Chengdu last year to provide Chinese students with accurate, comprehensive and updated information about how to apply for study at accredited US universities and colleges.

"We are glad to see that Chinese students and parents recognize the US' high quality and flexible education. For most of the families, it is difficult to find the right one among more than 4,000 universities across the US. That is the reason why we opened the four centers in Shenyang, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Chengdu. We hope that students and parents will not depend on third-party institutions when selecting a US university," said Heller.

She added that the Education USA centers have served about 200,000 Chinese students through public programs, one-on-one consultation, expositions and digital engagement since expanding presence across China.

When interviewed by, Qu Hua, director of the China office of Illinois Institute of Technology, said that her university has been controlling the acceptance rate of international students at about 30 percent over the years in the face of a growing number of applicants from around the world, but she stressed that Chinese students have always occupied about a third of the quota set for international students.

In 2014, there were media reports exposing that some US schools intentionally increased the proportion of Latino and African Americans allowed to receive education at the cost of cutting the quota set for Chinese Americans.

"Our admission policy is stable and will not be racially biased," said Qu.

The number of Chinese students admitted into Illinois Institute of Technology, which started opening offices in China in 2003 and now runs educational programs with China's government and famous universities like Tsinghua University, has increased exponentially compared with 13 years ago when the number of Chinese students studying at the Illinois-based university was less than 10, added Qu.

The director did not give a specific figure of Chinese students enrolled in the 2015-2016 academic year.

According to the 2016 Open Doors report, the number of international students studying in the US in the 2015-2016 academic year soared by 7.1 percent to 1,043,839 students, making the US the top destination for global students with plans to study abroad, with New York University, University of Southern California, Arizona State University-Tempe, Columbia University and University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign being the top five US institutions of higher education hosting international students.

The 2016 Open Doors report was also released to mark the celebration of the International Education Week, a joint initiative of the US Department of State and the US Department of Education to prepare Americans for a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study and exchange experience in the US.

American students in China

The 2016 Open Doors report also found that China remained the fifth most popular destination for American students to study abroad, following the UK, Italy, Spain and France.

In the 2014-2015 academic year, there were 12,790 American students studying in China, accounting for 4.1 percent of all American students studying abroad. But the number is a bit lower than that of the 2013-2014 academic year when 13,763 American students studied in China.

The US Embassy in Beijing has joined hands with numerous organizations from the two countries to encourage more American students to study in China. The US Department of State has set up the Study Abroad Office with goals of providing Americans with the information on student exchanges in China and assisting the next generations of Americans to gain expertise and knowledge needed to succeed in the process of globalization.

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